Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Dont let your grace down - Happy New Year 2010!!

Blog Post #100!!

When the time is tough
the tide is rough

Don't let your grace down.

When the results are few
but the efforts are more to chew

Don't let your grace down

Life is an art,
Inconsistencies enhance, Mistakes liberate

Don't let your grace down


When you lose a game,
it is not a shame

Don't let your grace down


When you talk to no one's ears
and there are fears

Don't let your grace down

When you rise, there is a fall,
When you fall, there is a sure rise

Don't let your grace down

In anger there are no truths
In faith, there are fruits

Don't let your grace down

So far it is an evolution
Time to make a resolution

In the new year 2010,
Don't let your grace down


Saturday, December 26, 2009

In Letter and Spirit

What determines a great service and good delivery worth remembering ?
  • We remember the prompt call/service person attendance after delivery of product.
  • We talk about the waiting lines and the lack of information in an otherwise good and happy quality product.
  • Our greetings and gift sharing have short term recall, but the manner of our greeting, time of call and appropriateness of gift has the word of mouth appeal.
This post is to bring forth an important point, that is oft missing. To achieve an objective in letter and spirit, it is not good to go beyond scope, give freebies, provide more attention, pamper in any other way. A delivery or service done well is what you are paid for in professional life. However to gain satisfaction, create your brand, carve a niche, you need not look beyond; rather look within and carefully tune your approach.

  • The approach determines the satisfaction in the great service and good delivery accepted by your client.
  • The approach provides the recognition after delivering a great service and good delivery to get the next higher value repeat order.
  • The approach ensures bringing skeptics and evangelists on board at the same time and vouch for the service line to bring more revenue.
  • The approach delivers you the candid opinion and critical feedback when you need them the most.


It is the approach that showcase spirit and sense of satisfaction in an otherwise quantitative completion of tasks and KRA's to objectives.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

e-Learning course styles

In one of my earlier post, I rued about the fallacy of levels based estimation and their mis-application in real world. This post is an attempt to bring about a change from that practice through a series of thought applications that could well then give the insight for a better model.

The large difference that can be seen in vast variety of e-Learning courses is the ability of courses, irrespective of multimedia quality, assessed on following styles.

1. Are the courses "flow through" materials. Take once, visit once in a while, strike through a task, fulfill a mandatory clause.

Knowledge gained: May be! But better than having nothing or print outs or slides with text and a boring presenter.

2. Are the courses retentive enough. Internal presentations, brochures, a communication from CEO, a function, an event organization, remain talking points for quite some time in the period. They allow for enough retention of the materials and subject. Blended learning model is very critical to ensure and enhance retention.

Knowledge gained: Yes, at-least the takeaways!

3. Are the courses comprehensible? Which means, are they materials allowing people to refer, quote, and provide feedback on the actual working vs training material content
.

Knowledge Gained: Goes beyond. People think about its application and contexts they fit in.

4. Do the courses change a behaviour? This is audacious to say that training alone achieved it. But when a tool/task/action is performed as it has been told vs now know why it needs to be done, then training is a factor (People can articulate the "What is in it for me" question). When a product gets a familiar greeting, then training is a factor (When people can train others on the features with minimal exposure- Think Google Wave videos). When a sub concious or an unconcious act is now executed conciously, then training is a factor (I didn't know the rules earlier. Having made to take the course, I now know fully well when I am breaking the rules.)

Knowledge Gained: Yes and Applied in situations. What crooks do is apply them towards greater sadistic pleasure, while good people apply them to ease/improve/change for good and better for the ecosystem concerned.

One important point, each of them carry equal cost and weight. The context differs. The content maturity levels decide, the availability of subject experts determine the style level of courses.

Are all 4 e-Learning ? That needs to be a discussion. Looking forward to your comments.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

e-Learning for Business Value not for Teaching skills to employees

Always shifting the anchor points in a brainstorming session gives more clarity and shakes up prejudices and strong views of people for a given topic. Talking of e-Learning vs ILT, e-Learning ROI vs ROE, Training for Performance, Custom vs Catalog course effectiveness, have generated enough literature that many are now not of much interest or add value.

But the problems still remain. It is not mainstream investment. The cut back is immediate when drive is to save bottom line and top line is stagnant. Lot of companies generate enough flash files and learning courses with many companies mandating e-Learning purchased courses to complete during "bench" time.


What next ?

This post from Cathy Moore, inspired me to write on this topic, running for quite some time on how to make a difference.

e-Learning courses when asked by customers need to be qualified better for their business roles :

1. Do you want e-Learning as a digital expression of hard copy manual ?

2. Do you create e-Learning courses to reduce costs ?

3. Do you desire e-Learning to become a benchmark for better communications, alignment to goals, mapping close to business goals?


If answer to #3 is "yes", then state the goals.


Few examples could be:
  • State the current communication method for product rollout, process change, availability of a new help mechanism? What is level of user participation ? How much would you want to increase ?
  • What business problems apart from cost do you like to see ? Are users comfortable traveling to your site ? Would they be happy, if training reaches them than they reach to training centers ? How would this contribute to users helping the company in return ? - More involvement, more productive, more responsive, less thoughts of leaving the organization, more participation in new initiatives ?
  • While achieving stated business goals what positive side effects would be desired? Reduction in time for efforts, errors, increase in participation to initiatives, ease od maintenance, etc ?

The crucial factor, we omit in all these discussions is to put
a "measurement index" around the goals. Some simple techniques that has worked with our customers are:
1. First feedback from 50 users should be good.

2. The number of dealers who have achieved certifications should be 40 in first month.

3. I should be able to give a CD along with my product.

I have seen e-Learning commissioned more and more by business functions from their budgets than IT or HR budgets.

Do you see the same patterns emerging in your roles ?

Monday, December 14, 2009

Good, Worthy, Reliant

All the 3 are antonyms of each other (Not in English, but in entrepreneurship mode).

  • A good candidate does their chosen area well. This, by itself is not a sufficient condition to be of worth in a given context.
  • A worthy candidate need not be good at their skills. But have proved time and again to do that one thing right at the right time. Dependable in a given situation.
  • A self reliant person is the "great" guy. They need not possess extraordinary skills. They need not be glamorous, smart. But they are savvy, street smart, passionate individuals, who take tasks up their sleeve, in their heart, roam with their mind applied to that one goal. Ever-green go-getters with minimal management overheads.
Which personality are you ?

When you have a good team, it only gets you to deliver good if you have projects. The team does not get you far.
Few worthy individuals in team, ensure that the sustenance is taken care of. They stretch only in patches to do few things right, and get back to being good.
A self reliant team is the auto pilot, well fit cog wheel set of individual groups who deliver, stretch and further take care of themselves and the system well.

How do you get a self reliant team in place ? When I start on my own, I for sure, will not be concerned for a good team.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Expressive vs Explanation: The difference? - Seek involvement in others

I have realized that to grow professionally, you need to move to a higher level of expressive forms than just explanation.
When you explain, you rationalize the already chosen path and try imposing a point of view through verbal or written medium.
In explanation, agreements are muted or disagreements immediately surface.

However expressiveness takes a radically different approach. Expressiveness let the audience participate with the level of your involvement with the subject.
You may draw, sing, dance, seek visuals, draw, take pictures, replete with analogies, humor, ask for points of view, Quote research; just simple: seek involvement from others.

Once the affinity levels are known, there is almost only one choice: Reciprocate and Resonate the topic and not necessarily the speaker views.
Thus expressiveness is more rational, logical, sensible, expandable, creative job that needs practice.


How have you expressed in a situation and how many got on board with you?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

When should you not look at games for an e-Learning solution

1. No games, When you have an objective to be achieved that is primary rather than involvement in game as focus.
2. No games, When there is a sense of urgency and purpose in the initiative and learning.
3. No games, When there is no humor or surprises required in the solution
4. No games, When the need is one time or an occasional repeat to the content
5. No games, When there is no competition required as a motivator
6. No games, When the stakes are not as high as a win is essential
7. No games, When you want a stickiness to a story rather than an evolution of story through users experience

Thinking of more...Any suggestions please ?

Saturday, December 5, 2009

e-Learning Media: Self made Constraints : Part 6: Integrators the lesser known important skill

I started my career in this area. Frankly, couldn't understand the value of the work.I neither code, nor design, nor edit, nor layout the screens. But it was a role held in high esteem by peers in my company.

My mentors started to instill confidence in the role and the value that Integrators bring to the table. It is not the technicalities in the end that WOW the customer. It is bringing them together that is important, that makes sense, that makes relation, that delivers the money, that delivers the business success. Hence while an ID, VD, developer, Technical teams are the experts that you cannot command on what to do in the project, an integrator just pieces all of them together and troubleshoots the "overlaps" and "disparate" elements with individual experts to resolve the "gaps" and "repeats".

The rant is to let you know, that things have not changed yet. There are still skeptics who rationalize and question the need of Integrators. A role given to a team member confuses on the actual work involved.

This is the role, that is more encompassing and shuttled around to do all tasks that fall through the cracks of independent teams. But it is an esoteric skill (perception that this is most critical), that allows growth for members to be excellent project managers.

The main target for Integrators is to explain and fight (at times) within the team to get the output flowing. Just that when you move to a PM role, you pick up explanation and fights (with customers and management not inclined towards solutions) while supporting the team you work with.

Still I cannot articulate the "Perfect Behaviour" or the "job description" for an Integrator, except that I can sense them with intuition, if they are right fit for the job. The best part is Integrators can come from any stream. No prior technical knowledge is necessary. But conviction to learn multiple technologies and use them and "interplay" between technologies is more sought after skill for a true "Integrator material" resource.

In my first company, I saw this abolished in name of cost cutting. Sad that it widened the gap to profitability in the next quarter. :( 
Do you employ Integrators in your e-Learning projects ?



Thursday, December 3, 2009

Perfect Behaviour

Instead of Job Description, I believe we should ask individuals to write their "Perfect Behavior" points. When we search for perfect friend, perfect companion, perfect day, we should put on "Perfect Behavior"every time.

Wouldn't it then be appropriate we write out the perfect behavior for project manager, spouse, instruction designer, developer, consultant, tester, etc... ?

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

e-Learning Media: Self made Constraints : Part 5: Is a Project Manager required?

I was flummoxed when a customer asked this question to us. This also brings about a much criticized role in e-Learning. When I started my career, I too could not understand the logic, rationale that a manager brings to table. Estimating efforts when everything is a variable (technology, requirements, design, and ever changing storyboards) was at the best, irritating and answering why the estimated efforts increased was a real waste of time. Not that I was discouraged with the questions (there is immense value in them), but at that time, delivery was more crucial and critical to prove self and over-smartness in playing with numbers was not my cup of tea.

Over the years as I matured into the same role, I guessed, I will not do that again. But lo, I too unknowingly asking the same questions differently.

Wouldn't a team lead or any management trainee do this job of recording estimations and actuals and preparing reports to management ? What does a skilled e-Learning artist expect from a manager and why this expectation gap, invariably, in many companies ?

For one, the expectations that I had, are the same I hear from my team now. Just reinforcing the fact that with so many years of maturity, the basic needs are still yearned and desired by teams in the manager.

What then, are the quantifiable expectations of a manager.
1. Understand the lingo of the teams.
2. Be a self worker too. Too much dependency on the team is never desired.
3. In e-Learning, teams expect the manager to be a solution person who applies business perspective than vice vera.
4. "Listen", "Emphatize", "Think", "Act" - Never argue or force down the throat any pills. They always taste bitter and bring in more health problems.
5. "Market" the teams efforts in all forums.

Last and the First: Be a numbers person.

Any other expectations you have from your project manager ?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Business Briefs

It is an antonym, actually. Briefs are detailed descriptions expressed in short notations for immediate exchange and action.

Going beyond the brief is expected, but not an accountable job description. When you apply yourself to the context, doing what it takes, you get the meaning of the brief.

  Absence of a brief is when problems arise. Mis-communication, missed timelines, missed effort targets, missing quality points, can all be traced to the absence of a briefing session and brief document. A fundamental rule is to have a business brief, creative brief, technical architecture brief, lexicon brief, style guides, and like when you start an assignment.

Have you given a briefing session and documented the minutes anytime ? This is the basic "quality gate" that you need to pass for an effective project management.

How many documents you create and how many briefs you give during your projects? How successful has it been ? Looking forward to your answers in the comments section.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Principal Room

Even today, I enter the principal room with unreduced fear, respect and awe. That time tensed about the occasional digression. This time for my daughter admission.

Which statement is more apt :
A student always a student for every teacher? OR
A teacher always a teacher for every one ?

What does it teach about the space design and meaning of power imbibed in such a simple word ?

e-Learning Media: Self made Constraints : Part 4: Visual Designer is never Information Designer

Is it the same with Visual Designers round the world. At least in my part, I see the creativity with strokes, sketches is not matched by their vocabulary set.

Anyways, that is not the point here. The point is a visual designer in e-Learning is a passe.

  1. For CBT's they were essential.
  2. In early days of WBT, they were required.
  3. In Web2.0 medium they are optional.

One field and skill that has transformed beyond the early vintage designs and job description is that of visual designer. Today, a VD is more of a painter where artistry is required. The artistry in VD is to visualize the details, design the information, present the semantics rather than support text in alternate medium.

Information Visualization and design are 2 most important skills that shape the beauty of today's e-Learning courses. How many of them have adopted this professional line and how many of them are getting there ?

The answers in my circle are far and few. Unless this transformation is complete, e-Learning courses will continue to be boxed between colored header and footer without relevance to content at hand.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

e-Learning Media: Self made constraints : Part 3: Content, the bottleneck

This is the issue #1 to solve. This is hard work. This is time consuming. This task needs more than simple motivational tactics. This task requires dedication.

The final output quality is square times the base content quality.

As per my experience and analysis of projects, the typical duration is as follows:
  1. 45% - Content Creation and Gathering
  2. 25% - Instruction Design and Course Material Writing
  3. 20% - Visual Design and Production
  4. 10% - Testing and Project Management
  • The irony is that #2,3,4 are costlier than #1 by a handsome 25%.
  • #1, originates within the employee base and getting them in company wide domain is the most tedious task. Is it really tedious as sought out to be ? The answers vary.

1. If bosses, say collaboration and knowledge sharing is important but the systems do not see a presentation or any value-centric documents shared from them, it is lip service. Every one in the team will give the same.

2. If external consultants come in and ask queries about business, it more often leads to tutorship of the consultant in the domain which for most part is resented or handed down as a mechanical routine.

3. I have seen recommendations that state that 2 hours of time is all it takes to gather and create content. This is good for vendor as the project can be completed. But is it worthwhile for the company ? To an extent, yes. But as long as the content has not been widely circulated and commented, getting a 2 hour content session into e-Learning is fraught with swirls and loops of iterations which gets costlier as the phases progress and the content grows in age over time.

What good then does such content and e-Learning systems provide. At best, a transient knowledge, converted to a learning structure and subjecting wide user base to read , comment, follow and collaborate.

Isnt there a way? There is, but the hard work still does not go away. Knowledge framework systems, like ours, allow organic capture of content over a period of time. As a consultant, we unobtrusively ping with senior management help in putting the pieces, one at a time in the basket with individual stakeholders. This, of course being organic takes more time to develop the complete program.

With a critical mass, we take the risk of moving towards e-Learning. The final program is reviewed for aesthetics and user experience than for content accuracy or content structure or content scope. The desire created to provide more such information that each of the reviewers have in wider topics in e-Learning model is a better way to overcome the constraints of a content-strapped e-Learning initiative. This gets the repeat and further orders for an annuity business in helping the performance-oriented organization.

Any better methods of content collection, creation and assimilation before launching e-Learning courses ? Rather the most important question is, do all customers allow to spend this time ?

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

e-Learning Media: Self made constraints : Part 2: Glory of ID sung less

ID role is a very misunderstood one. Not only by customers, but by other teams within e-Learning as well. I can bet that a PM, VD or a tester in a same project will definitely have a different version on the role of ID on their project.

So why and where has this confusion coming from? Hasn't it been addressed so long and why ? Isn't it then a major problem but a localized one ?

The consumption of services from ID requires a constant marketing pitch.

  1. ID role requires language proficiency as a primary skill, any person with good language skills feels ID is a logical next step. This is possible but often the argument is confused with good communication skills which is different.
  2. Further, a trainer, who has their material and conducts training, feels parting with their material to a non-subject matter specialist and depending on good output is not an appealing feature.
  3. Cost of ID services are always priced higher in comparison to other skills by the industry.
  4. Often the roles of subject experts, trainers and ID's blur. Hence IDs do a bit of all and may be others too feel can chirp in.
But ID is an important and a good acquired skill. The exact nature of work needs quantification. The work done needs a portfolio and showcase. The allied fields have similar profiles in different names. One such skill is "Information Architect". The good practices of these similar skills needs to be embraced. At times, I feel the ID role secludes them from an inclusive approach, which leads the perception differently.

Few overlooked impressions of an ID that always strike me as a Manager of e-Learning team are:
1. A good ID differentiates good content from available noise (mire of content)
2. An ID binds context to content and decouples the information from subject materials.
3. An ID, as opposed to Trainer or Subject expert, takes side with users and sees content through user lens.
4. An ID is a good teacher (am not sure how much this skill is useful, though).
5. A good ID, makes for interesting reading course materials.
6. An ID tailors a course to the audience. A trainer and teacher take these tailored courses to the audience with proper hand holding of the materials. A subject expert, shares all they know, while ID assists the subject expert to delineate the appropriate material suited to the audience.
7. An ID is equally creative as a visual designer and combines the expertise towards better user experience.
8. While ID writes explicit instructions most times, they provide subtle cues to assist in remembering facts, figures, points.

Any more points you could think of ? Please leave your impressions in the comments section.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

e-Learning Media: Self made constraints : Part 1: Estimation Models

I was discussing a project with a long time colleague of mine from the same industry. We quickly started to rue the fact that e-Learning has been stereotyped to be a screen based activity.

Screens would contain either
  1. Animation
  2. Interactivity
  3. Video
  4. Simple text and Graphic.
These over a period of time, has got slotted into level 1,2,3,... for quick estimation and budgets. This, I always maintain is the wrong estimation technique. It is
  1. Anti-pedagogy: It is the confluence of a chosen combination of these AS PER subject matter that defines the learning. Pre-configuring levels and fitting content into these levels is a dump of content in the determined areas.
  2. Anti Pattern for User Experience: When you define levels, you say, in effect, that the course I am giving you is going to contain simple text and graphic with page turner, or screens which have a said interactivity and so on. This is not user experience. Where did we care for users and ask them what would they like to see and how they want to experience e-Learning ?
  3. Opposed to the development teams real efforts: Levels define the output based estimates. But a delivery team takes in so much constraints, loose ends, additional but allied tasks, that they are not truly reflected in the estimates and hence the value of the entire project.

Still in my own team, I tend to join the chorus on discussing numbers with this model. So deeply entrenched is this culture, that the alternates are nowhere near main stream adoption.

Some alternates I have seen are:
1. Points based estimation: Have a unit for estimation and for various tasks, assign weighted points. These then sum up together multiplied by least effort value gives the total effort for which quote is given. This mimics functional point estimation in IT projects. However the unit figure typically is an abstract estimate, which needs more science for an effective measurement. It is best bet for approximation of efforts, does it give a framework for tracking efforts ?

2.
Task based estimation: This technique is to list down the tasks in chronological order and rate the efforts against them. This is a safe bet and good estimation technique that allows for tracking as well. But the effectiveness of this depends on the granularity of defined tasks. Most of the time, we do so many out of the box tasks relevant to move the project that it seeps through the cracks of this estimation resulting in more variance.

3. Resource Loading based estimation: This at times really works. Though very crude and does not have scientific value, this gut estimation of resource loading over the project duration is normally close in measuring actuals. Yet, this measures efforts and cost of creating e-Learning. Does it measure the output and value of the package for e-Learning ?

4.
Course-hour seat time based estimation: Suffers from same pitfalls as level based estimation, this is again anti thesis for pedagogy and andragogy. How can some one calculate the time I will remain in my seat for learning or studying ? May be reading. Yes. But is it e-Learning? What we talk here is only a notional time and I usually argue that it should be referred to with some good notation format and never as a value.

For example: SeatTime (Click Throughs):10 hours, SeatTime(Audio Length): 10 hours, SeatTime(Voice Reader): 10 hours.

These atleast suggest the various ways we arrive at the course hour and NEVER BY JUDGING LEARNING TIME.

Any other models, you use to effectively measure and track time of tasks, user feedback, value that is aligned with e-Learning and betters the above list. Please leave your comments.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Feedback from Field

This is something that I crave for these days.

I have been trying to impress upon my internal customers (Sales, Other practice heads, project managers) and my team of designers, developers, quality control members that they are my key critics who can give me the much valuable impression from their respective field.

However, often, I receive a muted affirmation or a non-compliance (I figure later through micro management) to the communication channels of either power point presentations, documents, excel based templates for number crunching or even short/long emails.

Johari window (nice explanation in this link) indicates that we need to be express ourselves (Free Area) and ensure that the eco-system perceives the same about us (address the blind areas).

The information process as per the quadrants is to allow for:
Expression > Feedback > Disclosures >SelfDiscovery/Mutual Enlightenment

Thus, Feedback from the field is the first key point that allows for closed loop communication. Going beyond this basic need is collaboration that allows for disclosures to open up hidden areas and through careful analysis move craftily to the open area from the unknown areas.

Wanna aim for perfection ? Insist on feedback and ask for critics eye review on the communication. Back channels or trackbacks are the easy routes that enable customers, vendors, project teams, client teams to work effectively as a true ecosystem enabling successes in business.

I rarely do get the feedback from field. Whenever it has come through, it has always been a revelation and innovations and marketing initiatives have been fast tracked making our maturity quicker. When a partner from the eco system takes interest in my work, then the work gets exciting and interesting.

Feedback from Field is a most respected job. Get that in place for all communications to be successful.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Convergence Marketing

Peter Drucker wisely said that there are only two critical tasks for an organization - Marketing and Innovation. Only Visionaries can mean it so true.

A project is a delivery that brings in top line to the organization. However the true bottom line is recognized through the innovation that brings about the freshness in the current as well as future projects. Creation of various product/service mix at various price points enable the benefits of the organization multifold and beyond the transient nature of projects.

At the same time, any task or activity that is done to get a sale, can be considered a marketing effort. For example, cold call can be argued as the first sales step. Widening the perspective, we can consider it a marketing program, since it is the first touch point in getting a feel and setting an expectation with a prospect. To get a sale, you need to go further in creating needs/desires, gain confidence on solution, may be give a sample POC, get to convince stakeholders on the investment and then seek permission to make a sale.

Since till the time a sale is made and closed, the main task is to get the prospect closer to us. This requires creating/understanding the desire, configuring a product/service that best addresses the needs and show a working model, based on which a sales person can ask for the sale and discuss the commercials.

So more and more I read the statement of Peter Drucker, the more I am convinced that be it delivery, support, sales, administration; innovation and marketing are the key catalysts in division or organization sustenance.

Related Posts:
1. A Best Marketing Program
2. Make it Visible
3. The way to market an IT solution
4. Brand building by Project Manager
5. The best Marketing Tool - Projects
6. Evolution Story - Power of Need

References:
* I took the Drucker quote from Marketing practice blog.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Highs and Lows are the real Middle Ground: A good principle to "price" services

Many times over, people say, "good is the evil for great" and "mediocrity is least desired path for growth". I had my moments earlier too and the realization hit hard today.

In talking to my project team about a proposal, I realized that we had offered a low entry cost to break the barrier. Now when upgrades and maintenance is to be undertaken, we ourselves cannot come to argue with the fact that this should be lower than the initial price. Many arguments and points were floating around on how much could be a desired range and how much can be a climb down.

At the end, one of my colleagues said "You know we suffer from median syndrome. We never have a high-low or low-high price model. Take a look at product companies. Initial cost is high, while upgrades and maintenance are at a high discount price. We should follow a similar model or a reverse of it." A person who considers real estate business his forte said "Right. Either make it clear at start or keep a tight mix as in housing loan EMI: Initially a high premium + low principal which reverses as you move along years.)

True, either keep a higher price point for fresh work (consequently deliver equivalent value) and charge significantly lower for recurring services or keep an optimum price point for fresh work, but make it clear that the same price would be maintained in case of recurring services as well. (In analysis, low entry price and same price for recurring services means higher price for significant perceived low value of maintenance and support.)

Keeping middle ground is a difficult business. Have a high-low/low-high price mix in your arsenal to make good business sense.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Why should I care to respond

You give me Wiki, Blog, Twitter, Free webinar links, Forums, a chalk and talk or any medium of expression, why should I care to respond ?

If 1% is the contributor in social internet market place and just that the numbers are good enough to sustain the supply-demand balance, what do the 99% do? As a fact, it is accepted that this ratio is the reason why social media in workplace is a long shot away from main stream business benefit solution.

Should we ask the question Why do the 99% care not to contribute ? Are they introverted consumers, or careless/carefree personas who want more than give away or just lazy to express or suffer the "starter" block failing to overpower it?

Well, I too grapple these questions without answers. :( However, some pointers are showing up in interaction with my customers.

1. People who contribute tend to be known for it. In big meetings, you know for sure that a chosen few will start talking neverthless the subject. The same people do not miss the opportunity in the web medium. May be the 1% team.

2. Many of them make a start and expect a reaction. This is where many of the flops happen. To respond, we send automated messages without context as the reaction. This is a let down. Further a commitment is missing the other direction. Their feedback may be tangential. Still they need to be recognized as a valuable feedback and ask them to give more ideas.

With one of my customers, we were given the challenge that the sign off would be given to us only if 50 users certify their usefulness of the e-Learning course. We provisioned a feedback button to prove our worth. The customer brought the team who commented in the feedback in the room and asked what they meant in their feedback. The results were dramatic. Post the meeting, each of them met me individually and gave me enough feedback (offline) to
  1. explain how they work,
  2. what we need to rewrite,
  3. analogies to explain.
In fact, more than the sign off, the customer got an evangelist who is going out in the field to propogate the word. May be 1% higher conversion rate right ?

3. Cynics Feedback into account: "One more task in my plate. Whew!!" ,"How much should I handle?", "What is going on is atleast ok." The majority of the team, will fall in this arena. They cannot be brought their way into the fold. They would continue to be so. However, they must be the best people to tear apart the exisiting structure and suggest an alternate and better one. They need a story to let them know how useful their earlier feedback was and what improvements were made. Cynics can remain the same. Just that, they should be your alibi and not a liability.

4. Rule Followers: Some people will start to attempt only if a rule is made. It is better to follow a rule than spend time in what is not mandated by the society. Hence make it part of KRA, give some bonus points or any thing that is documented. You would see followers seeking results.

5. Determine Levels of contribution: It is long tail that matters as good as Top contributers: The person who occasionally respond is equally important as top contributers. However, levels are important to establish a motivation level to move up the ladder to encourage more contribution.

It still matters that contributors will be small % of the consumers.

"Why should I care to respond" is important consideration to address to get a good collaboration solution in place than a technical solution.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Stand Up: Your Identity, Your Recognition or ...

In recent incident and many incidents in past, I realized that project teams take seriousness on their heads to the extent, that the output is stripped out of the emotional attachment.

In what then seems to be the cause, would mostly have been an overpowering voice that is dissented but yet silenced to work and deliver what was said.

This is painful and helplessness...would agree that the ruthlessness is deserving for such teams.

What I teach my team every time in such incidents is this:
  1. Stand Up: To lose the fear of finding another job sitting at your desk. You will eventually get one.

  2. Stand Up: To speak the right thing, the right time, the right way. No point in getting angry, hurling abuses, cursing to self, feeling sorry to have missed the bus. If you are not comfortable, say so and carry along what you need to do. If forced, document that " I abide by your suggestion and request you to be responsible for the results. In future, if things may change, would request that my points be given a consideration." or something like that...

  3. Stand Up:Walk over and say you need to talk things over. Many escalations are solved in this way, without need for emails and CC lists. And it goes off in minutes.

  4. Stand Up: Cross over and Talk the bitterness you have. Never write bitterness, escalate bad blood in emails sitting at your desk. They will haunt you forever.

  5. Stand Up: Be led yourselves. Don't be led. If you are not presented the choice, better to say so and work than just work and feel so.

  6. Stand Up: Speak out when given an opportunity in private or public. Never miss a chance. Popularly known as "Chance pe Dance".

  7. Stand Up: It shows your personality. Your Identity, Your recognition. Don't miss it.

  8. Stand Up: To say sorry when you dismiss suggestions and demand a certain compliance without appealing to common sense. You do exactly what you hate others doing it to you. Isn't it ?

  9. Stand Up: To listen to any one standing and speaking to you. 1. In India, it is respectful, 2. You would be more keen, 3. You would feel free to relax and hence absorb new ideas. My dad used to tell me to walk and read to beat sleep and energize the brain early morning. If only, I listened...
Practice and let me know, if you felt otherwise.

And #10, re read #9. :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One way Proactiveness does not work

How many times, you have went to a management review or parental advice and received back the advice: "Why don't you be pro-active?" Have been wondering, whether it is a sage advice?

To me, each of us have to be active, proactive and reactive at the same time for energy, enthusiasm, positive vibration and co-exist in a healthy social set up. The social setups, can be friends, college, schools, organizations, housing societies, religious orders, parties and similar ones.

Being active, is a state of self readiness, while pro-active and reactive are a perception of the community about your activity level.

It is important calibration that we need to be proactive and reactive with the community. Any pro-activeness needs a matching reaction from other party. Similarly any pro-active need immediate reaction from your side. If not, it is a shake up of a dormant state to shift a position and get to slumber mode again.

My understanding is this: Any human being needs to be active and work pro-actively and reactively with the surroundings to have an energized life. It is better to quit the place, when the desired exchanges are not available for you.

Better advice than saying "be proactive" right ?

Breaking a Plan: Creating a Decision Support System

  1. What happens when you break a plan: Chaos, distaste.
  2. What happens when you look at past decisions and crib at them: You lose the taste of enjoyment of present and look towards future with disdain.
  3. What happens when your patience level needs to be more: Get back to planning with a future date in mind.
  4. What happens when you experience a positive turnaround: A fresh perspective, with young energy and a sense of accomplishment and purpose to live through current

Plan, Calibrate, Action are the 3 ways to keep the path of positive reinforcement training. This is how, I would prefer Decision Support Systems Training to focus than treat it as a glorified multiple choice assessment sequence.

Typical methods are to provide a scenario, give few options, provide feedback or a changed scenario and showcase the end results. But they just live in realm of education and once out in the world, more forces, more people, and more variations, do not equip the trainees any further than they were before the training...

Instead could a Decision Support System,
1. Provide a Case
2. Ask the users to write a plan
3. Make them navigate the plan through various choices they have in the support world
4. Help them revisit it at a point and ask them to Calibrate it for better future.
5. Make them navigate the revised plan through various choices in support world
6. and continue the cycle for the number of times, they would like to see how a break in plan forces them down the alley of darkness and hence make a plan to stay on course.

In essence, to me, a good decision support system training is one that enforces the fact that I should Plan and Action it according to the plan. If I break a plan, I should have learnt my lessons not to shove it off, but to calibrate it as a revised plan.

Possible? Searching for good references on above... Can you help, please?

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Signs of Authority: An important Presentation Trait

I have seen number of presentation from junior to senior management teams. In many of them, which obviously have improved better in terms of slide quality with 2007 and lot of intelligence shared in web, the delivery mechanism has always not excited me. When I see TED Talks and compare my own experience as presenter and audience, I realize that authority and command generate and shape the presentation than slides themselves. Few areas that I find useful to concentrate during a presentation are:

1. The sign of authority on subject: When you know what is on slide, you would present a take on the slide and not read the same. You would avoid phrases like "What this slide means is...", "We have put this slide to tell that ....", "As this slide states..." etc.

Instead the audience should be able to scan the slide, make their impression and wait for you, the presenter to elucidate it further. That enables you, the presenter to have a meaning on the stage along with the presentation.


2. Command over flow and language: My dad used to say this in my child hood, that this is the most critical skills you need. Indeed he was a professor who could lecture without a break for an hour on a chosen subject. Of course, in that age I got to neither oppose nor follow.

But this is a take from politician and film speeches. They never falter. Some demand silence when they speak. They pause long enough for accolades, over powering the audience. Some intersperse with questions, for people to answer it and answer the same in their voice. This affirms their status and get more buy-in. In some presentations which are extempore in nature, the flow is so structured and still so malleable depending on the audience interest.

So some points to remember are: no hums ("uh", "umm"), no stammer pauses (like "so so", "like"), no generic, wayward phrases (like "that thing", "you know what i mean", etc).

The sign of authority on the subject is realized by the audience only in the ability to make an easy flow and flawless language.


3. Control over TIME: In some of the presentations, I have been told that if audience can stay longer than fixed time, it is a sign of attention, attraction and success. It is easier to accept this as a fact, as this line of argument too make some sense.

But counter intuition also seems to have a good argument. People who tend to stay longer, either are polite enough to let you hang around or have made their decision much earlier and hence are tuned off or have got nothing to do with the presentation and it was just an experience for them. It is like we do not antagonize a friend when we don't bother or are in a mood to pay attention any longer. We do not care for switch off point as the time limit has exceeded the attention span.

Control over time, has always been a critical skill to provide audience with a pleasure of utilizing their time craftily. This keeps them on their edge, since they know there would be something missed if they are not around at that time.

The authority that you mean business and exactly know what you are talking about gives the sign of authority, a respect and perception frame of reference.

4. Contribution: Instead of measuring audience attention, attraction through the time they spend on the session, it is good to measure the involvement through contribution. Contributory audience is a rare form of group that you could ever get. Better still, you have a couple of people who can chime with you on questions, topics, supportive statement, the better the session jives in the presentation. I make it a point to always take a supportive person alongside, to one de-risk any stage frights, I might get and to enable a tango experience that provides a relief to the audience.

Believing in user intelligence and generating user contribution in a live session, is the highest form of love and respect that a presenter can command from the audience.

5. Analogies, Stories and Queries: Let it be a good strategy presentation or a presentation of a case which is not in a good time or shape. Analogies, Stories enable the presentation better.

A few months back, I was on verge of a breakdown. Sales front was down, repeat orders were drying up and projects were coming to an end. Recession was felt all around. To keep head high required lot of inherent motivation.

In this time, my senior management wanted to know what is happening. It would have been easy to provide the facts as bullets, prepare for the worst and await their decision. The other alternative, that I chose with my bosses advice was to present a story on where we see windows of opportunity flowing in. In the last part of slides the facts came out that we are caught in storm. But the initial analogies and stories of positive turnarounds in other areas, our helplessness yet the efforts we are putting in with all our abilities helped present the case without a hard blow.

In the last review this month, my senior manager told my immediate bosses that this could be used as a case study on how to keep track of a service and ensure a fast turnaround. The slides used to present had a marked story to speak about themselves.

Not only in such instances, I have found a presentation with careful, meaningful and relevant analogy and story helps get the attention, attraction and more importantly the message across. Having a follow up call provides the stickiness factor that we all strive to attain in every engagement.

Would love your comments on more traits that you would like to contribute to help me stand up for the next presentation as a better presenter ?

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Social Media is not just a single application

In some of responses received when talking about Social Media, the default mental model, that is referenced and spoken in context is Twitter. It often leads me to wonder, that are we using Social media in right context and frame or limit it to applications, that we know in this space.

While in my earlier 2 posts, I realized that when I started writing I too had a few tools that I frequent: LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogs and wrote according to their functionality. But I then had to generalize it to mean any tool or software in this space. Few tools that I was a regular earlier were: Ryze, Orkut. For some reason, i could not be on Facebook still.

But these are manifestations of an idea around concept of social and community networks. The whole idea is to get talking, keep talking, get to share, set to learn...

Monday, September 21, 2009

Elastic Learning Design: How Social Media Transforms Course Structure

Sahana in response to my post on Ideanets, had the following comment.

"I love the idea of "ideanet" and these moving and expanding, gathering more and more force en-route. I can see an analogy to Twitter here--a collection of 140 characters coming from different directions, converging on certain topics and forming a veritable flood of ideas on that topic. From this mix emerges something that is powerful, innovative, transformation in nature."

I liked the brevity of the message here. What underlies this statement is a powerful message on what laser-focused topic discussions and little good digression can have on learning.

A similar format was started by our community at Ning. Join us to view the topics under discussion here.

In many cases, the output of a learning design is to create a table of contents or a course structure with limited amount of elasticity in allowing for change: Expansion, Contraction based on current context. The idea of elasticity in these instances is to make a remediation path or a custom learning path pre-configured to a certain assessment score. The role of social media has not changed it, but eliminated this constraint in unparalleled ways.

The funny thing is that social media is not a learning medium or tool.
It is an exchange medium
. It is a place to
  1. bond,
  2. develop relationships,
  3. collect,
  4. discuss,
  5. lead,
  6. participate,
  7. share your possessions: It could be your friends, knowledge, music collection, books, etc.
Yet, the revolution it brings on to learning and development on an individual is to challenge old notion of a structure and replace with a structure that is
  1. unstructured, yet
  2. dynamic,
  3. relevant,
  4. intuitive,
  5. appealing,
  6. important and
  7. hence ELASTIC in nature.
And yes, in these is true learning and spirit of learning that endures our lives. Hence design and invest in a social media program that even if 1% in your company is active, it is worthwhile investment.

But yes and again, having an Intranet portal or a technology implementation is not sufficient condition to be in social media community place. You need to buzz it every time, every occasion, every where. Have you done it ?

To enable such elastic learning design in a company/community cannot happen in a vacuum. Users just don't create content on their own. They need content to talk about, need to talk with people, to generates true social media learning content. Hence investing in e-Learning around the vision of taking the next big step in social media learning would get you better ROI strewn in the path of e-learning implementation.

A truly Elastic Learning Design will give the endurance of time, life-long support and automated self-coach vehicle with the promise of higher return every time the content is accessed by a consumer.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

TOP 5 business considerations for Social Media adoption

Social media is a world to live in. As there are many tools, places to attract a social and cultural group, it is important to understand the prime considerations. While there can be an extended list, the below list is written in response to a query on "Why should I invest in Social Media Marketing, What should I not do and Is there something that I should be aware of?" for a prospect who is new to the subject.


Why should I invest in Social Media Marketing:
1. It is here to stay. It is real business. It is the potent marketing weapon for keeping your customers. Mark your presence TODAY to gain the social media experience.

2. As with age, social media gets stronger by the day. You cannot expect to build and stage manage one. The paradox is the more it grows, the more attention it deserves.

3.
As with neighbourhood friends, social media networks at the most lie dormant. They never vanish. As we get energised when we bump into a long lost friend, the dormant nets just need a trigger to wake up.

4.
Once out in the world, you are on your own is an oft mentioned saying. It applies to social media as well. The content you release in social media is for the world to consume. You never know who would like it and when. The paradox is to succeed in social media, you need people. You cannot make a mark on your own.

5. The name, fame and spread of word for you is real. People recognize you for what you have done to them and develop a self-interest to propagate it in their crowd. How many times, have your customers referred you multiple times to multiple friend of theirs and take special interest for your business? Social media people do it. The motive here is "association" with like minded people and it is amazing to see how many people like you for who you are.


What should I not do:
1. Social Media is an organic evolution and not an instant gratification project. You get to see people following you, reading your content after you achieve critical mass. The unfortunate part is that the threshold is not a constant and varies from individual to individual. So without patience and focus, do not enter this world.

2.
There is no room for translucency in the name of transparency. You will be exposed if there is a hidden catch.

3. Do not pay for social media activities and think people with wages can deliver to you. They can at most help you. But if you are not there, your efforts in social media is not recognized. It should come from within. Authenticity is always tested on you by the entire world.

4.
Always be responsible. There is no pardon for transgression of social morality or insensitive wit.

5. It is a culture and cannot be made a rule/mandate. If you cannot be part of it, want to modify the rules, do not enter through the door.

Is there something that I should be aware of:
1. Social media will always remain a child. It is your own child. You need to give it attention always and cannot end loving it. It means you need to be a caring parent and enrich this medium with your attention and love. The constraint is you cannot get busy and leave this to junior staff to handle on their own.

2. It is a one-way street. Once in social media, orphaning or dormancy is a major flaw. Never get in without sufficient time or with half-hearted move. The efficiency of social media is directly proportional to the activeness on your part and activeness in equal proportional of network team.

3. The time to give information is when it is created and immediate. Back dating and back tracking information is not a worthwhile exercise.

4. Thankfully, it is technology that powers it. Paradoxically, it is not technology that drives social media. It is people and real people, with authentic values, special interests and good content who are still a minority in the social media world.

5. Irrespective of who you are in real world, social media recognizes 1 role: Specialist.
Explore, Research, Assimilate, Investigate, Analyze and then capture them suitably to share them for the world to know you.

Would love to hear about relevant and similar posts for own improvement.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Employee Evaluation: It is not just Performance

The distaste in professional life, is that performance alone doesn't matter in retainer-ship of employment.

The blog Why Haven't You Fired Him Yet? , is a very good read. Good performers should also be good at creating deterrents around them from being tossed out as fantasized in my earlier post.

The blog is truthful about the practical fact that to a certain level, we tend to expect a mandate and homogeneity from fellow colleagues with our own internalized systems, while becoming uncomfortable with little threats to the thought process. In our management circles, we discuss an employee viability in cost terms, and performance is always a second priority (not without reason). The costs are:
  1. "Management Overhead Cost": Inclusive of performance is the analysis of the fact whether the resource needs to be managed not only for work, but for the self-team-organization balance. It many times, unfortunately, means and is used for "falling in line", when it actually should be used to analyze, the management attention created to address a probable negative impact. For example, a resource is self managed, goes about the job in a routine fashion, and completes the job allocation in their own style. They should ideally be more, right?
But if there is a mandate that knowledge sharing is a need and must, and the cultural aspect is neglected for personal gains, then the management over head in ensuring the cultural balance is prominent than performance required.

Similarly, there is something in the mannerisms that the next level performers find choking in the superlative performer, the management over head to elevate the next level performers to the superlative league is a crucial factor in the evaluation.
  1. "Peer Value Cost": This cost is measured in comparable terms. Again, it is often than not, misused, as a favoritism, while it is to be measured to value the attention(brags/self mentions)-attraction (perks/salary) -assertion(Choosing work, being finicky of others work ) ratio vis a vis performance.
This is typically manifested in teams where employees come from different profiles: Some working their way up through experience, while others have a degree to boot at the same level, or in some instances, the variable attention just for the prestige associated with the school.

In a team of equivalent talented great employees, the overhead of giving disproportionate attention, attraction and assertion to a particular employee would mean other equated employees would leave/live with heart burn that would affect the morale, brand of the organization.

Hence while it is important to lay down the performance parameters, it is equally important to be conscious of the associated costs and keep them to minimum for a self-standing success.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

User Experience Management Lessons: How to screw up and lose business: A case story

Club Mahindra owns chain of resorts in India. As per my understanding, in simple terms, they rely on membership fees and in-resort expenses by customers as its business model.

Their marketing strategy to identify customers seems to be good. They target visitors to Malls, Multiplexes, Shopping chains where their possible profile of customers visit. Conduct in-mall advertising or conduct draws to attract consumers. They claim to give free gift vouchers for selected people at certain outlets. The first twist starts here.

You get a call from their team, if you have given your details in any of the above places. Stealthily, they put in a condition that they would give the free gift, if you visit them with your family only and sit for one hour. They repeatedly claimed they would neither force nor sell anything in the meeting and would just provide info about their services. I thought "one to one marketing" and these guys could afford it - Not bad and it seemed that they get clients with families who visit them for free gifts. A good ROI for marketing investment, indeed.

Screw Up #1: Do you ever call a customer/prospect to your office to sell/market your services or request to meet them at their convenient place? Further put in a strict condition to meet family together? But resort businesses do have this audacity.

Good part is, there was a sense of professionalism in their follow ups. I postponed the visits as I was not interested in spending time hearing what they have to say to get a voucher. After 3-4 times, I gave in to the desire to reciprocate, as they kept repeating that 1 hour of my time is what they are after.

Immediately after, I was given a code number, there was a call from a so called manager (after the experience everything is circumspect) to confirm my visit and they were insistent that I visit them at a particular time. I indicated a time and they called to confirm. They elaborated how they prepare for each prospect visit by reserving a table, identify the materials, ship the gift to the place and plan ahead to give a good experience.

Till now, it was a mixed bag of reactions. But what happened when you visit their office, what they do with the earned 1 hour is a sour experience for me. But a gold mine of lessons at their expense, that I do not wish to hold it to myself.

We checked in their place. First thing that strikes you odd, is that there were empty chairs and tables with computer in every table.
Screw Up #2: Discontinued experience. The people in call were insistent on meeting time of their choice. Here we are staring at blank tables and chairs. Then why the fake ambiance of appointments, reserved tables, preparing materials, etc? If you had reserved a table, shouldn't my name be on one of the tables ?

Still having spent fuel and parking charges, we waited in the lobby.
Screw Up #3: If I have been given an appointment, why make me wait? Shouldn't my host, be ready.

We were made to fill a form. Five minutes later a person introduced himself. I said, you now have 50 minutes. He said his presentation is for an hour. I allowed to see what they have got.
Surprisingly, he told us about his personal details and asked our personal details.

Screw Up #4: Hello, Club Mahindra. Why do you train/ask your reps to say their personal details to me. I am not there to know him/her. I am there to evaluate your service and buy if I like. When I say, I am ok to listen further, your insistence on we saying our details is a put off.

Then, the worst thing was presented the worst way. The guy pulled out a questionnaire and said, he would now fill a pre-initiation checklist. And that if we qualify then he would continue otherwise we would get the gift voucher and walk off.

Blunder #5: Dont Club Mahindra fellows feel they are insulting their potential customer? You call a prospect at your place and you tell them that you are there to qualify if I can be your customer ? What the hell, do the process guys and trainers at Club Mahindra were thinking about this whole marketing design? WOULD ANY ONE IN A SANE MIND DO THIS ?

At this time, I felt it is time to quit their place. Still owing respect to the brand, I informed that he has 1 hour of my time and he can utilize it well, if required. Surprise, he goofed up again to SELL me their plans and said "I want a YES or NO from you with no hard feelings and we would not continue further, if your decision is No".

Screw Up #6: While you market, you do not sell. While you sell, you do not ask for YES or NO. Putting on my trainer hat, I explained that in business there is never a "no" for an answer. The best answer can be "NOT AT THIS TIME" and that would be my decision.

He immediately left his seat without basic courtesy of informing where he is going. He came back after 15 minutes to tell us that we need to wait for 1 hour to collect the voucher.

Blunder #7: You allow your reps to take a mobile call when they are sitting in front of prospect and leave their desk without a basic courtesy, that too in an appointment? You do not piss of a prospect at this stage. The damage they can do will be far more than what your customers would do for you.

At the end, I realized how foolish the people who were trained are, the quality of training imparted to them, the entire process design was left to poor executors. Is this what people say making an asshole of themselves ?

Worse, when I called in to tell them the bad experience, the manager who was professional enough earlier said, I would receive the voucher through courier that I asked them to do so in first place.


Would I ever be a customer of Club Mahindra again or any business doing such a mess in the initiation phase itself? Well, this time, the answer is as expected by the rep: "NEVER AT ANY TIME."

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Deterrents and using Game Theory rules to play them

When you want some one to NOT take a bad action, what do you do ?
1. Warn ?
2. Ignore ?
3. Shout ?
4. Object ?
5. Create Obstacles ?
6. All of the above ?

Did you notice a commonality in them ? The question and the options have a negative connotation on their tones. Would it be better to have a positive technique to ensure a bad thing does not happen ?

The key is to understand "Deterrents".

A simple example of a deterrent is the attendance/swipe system. It doesn't eliminate late comers or absentees. It just deters a majority to fall in line.

Deterrents
are to force and ensure a decision or an action is considered many times over to mitigate the sure set backs than manage for positive results.

But why is this required? Don't we assume every one takes decisions in right spirit ? Game theorists make an assumption that :

All players behave rationally: that is,
1. They understand and seek to maximize their own pay offs. 2. They are flawless in calculating which actions will maximize their payoffs

In game theory terms, there are times, when to maximize your own payoffs, you will play a "zero-sum", "one-shot" game with "imperfect information" to win. This is the place where deterrents are used by the game players who are defending their positions.

Some time back, there were lay offs which saw a "corporate" familyness being destroyed by new management team. The team that got affected most was the team I was closely associated with. My boss too didn't survive the swirl.

From then on, I have been wondering, if I could ever get a chance to reverse the circumstances, it would be to reverse this day. Pensive thoughts and brooding's coupled with other environmental factors in other organizations that happened from then on, made me realize that to prevent a bad action by any one afflicting you, there are few rules. These rules will make the bosses that be, step back a little and consider many things before they come close to a decision.

Some of these rules are:
1. Be Big: This seems a counter productive solution. You become more vulnerable to hate and generate that much more negative publicity to withstand. Further you become a cynosure of all eyes. But, if you notice, the resilient power also is tremendous and more strong that a small player, who is weakened in absence of power.

2. Be Well-Known: The team in case above, had this basic flaw. The members were individually known. But they weren't known enough for the value they created for the organization. Being known is to be aware. Being Well Known is to have a network that has a strong influence. Call it a "positive lobby" for ease of understanding.

3. Be Dispensable: Well, this sounds stupid, right. But counter-intuition in this instance works more. Remember, when you are indispensable, there are enough support structures that are created around you. But when you make yourself dispensable, the support structures are also absent. The risk of doing away is high in this case. What this means is, the team, company, unit would survive when you are not around. But it is easier and most malleable for closure by just one break point from new bosses. You would start getting calls from your ex-colleagues in short period of time.

4. Be Brave: The more you fear, the more you open the field for others to play with you. To make rules, to decide the match, you need to be brave and take tough choice. They could be making counter offer or proactive offer that bosses might secretly consider in their echelons. But knowing your proclaimed stance consistent with who you are will deter an early decision.

5. Never Compromise: If you want to exist, please don't follow this rule. If you want to live, if you are brave to set rules and decide, then follow this rule.

6. Be ready to Exit on your Own: One of my influences has been "First Things First" and "Seven Habits of Highly Effective People" by Stephen Covey. I still remember the phrase that if you don't take your decision, some one else will in one of these books. This one sentence, made me bold enough to take a big risk of quitting a job, that I stopped enjoying. It is a foolish decision looking back, I didn't even listen to my parents. BUT that ONE decision has made me where I am and happy that it extended my friend network better.

These rules create deterrents in way of taking an unpleasant decision without making a noise and it is this noise that people "fear" most, when it happens.

Am I right ?? Looking forward to your counsel...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The importance of a name and the rise of immediate surfers

My colleague in his blog chronicles his brush with Swine Flu impact. His take on the subject revolves around the hardships of a manager in his daily life.

Since this blog of yours, reflects on project management learning from the trenches, my hope is this post would interest you on these unknown travails in work life.

Today's economic times comment in first page talks about % afflictions being more due to other ailments than this imminent danger.

Then,
  1. why the scare,
  2. why the attention,
  3. why the frenzy,
  4. why the advices,
  5. why the chain mails floating around for this particular import product ?
Long time back, I saw photographs of people moving around in masks when SARS was around. Now I get to see it live in action in my own backyard as well.

The lesson on this is that wide and fast spread always gains instant and immediate action/reaction. So when you want your ideas to spread, spread the flu. The name needs to be spread. The details: History, Technicalities, Do's and Dont's will all spiral in various idea nets.

The containment of ideas is only through isolation (as in Flu). Hence ensuring your idea nets are spread wide, they would always be in the air and even weak strains would be able to spread into many clusters.

The rise of immediate surfers is the first big marketing break you need for your existence in the web world. Hence get your ideas in the Flu mode and spread your ideanets wide.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

IDEAS AND IDEANETS

My ramblings on ideas becoming memes, viral, and seeing light of day.

Ideas are aplenty. However, there are few that see the light and still few receive sponsorships.Does this mean that few ideas have less power than ones that are implemented ? Although, I would like to believe so, some experiences prove that all ideas are equally good and need to implemented. But it is time, cost and most importantly NEED that determines the power of ideas.

Wait, aren't we missing a vital ingredient here. If time, cost and NEED are the attributes to move an idea to benefit a group, society, business, then every idea shared can be a need for someone at that point of time. If not, this makes me think that there is a nodal point which is essential to make an idea successful. This nodal point is not one single entity. The entity itself is so fragmented yet connected that the power no longer lies in the nodes but in the connectors.

When these connectors with their power transmit an idea, they become "Ideanets" Multiple such ideanets get contribution from each node that the connectors can be thought of fattenning pipes as they progress with force towards a success. The final node that we stop is when it is market ready and in use.

If only we realize that it is another "ideanet" at play and starts from this point onwards and we connect the 2 idea nets that we have a successful business built on ideas.

How to make ideanets possible. Enter social media and their importance. I will reserve this for my next post...

Monday, July 27, 2009

The way to market an IT solution - Look at the storyline and how they build it.

Was digging thru my mail archives and found this one addressed to my team during the release of Google Wave. Felt good again about the email, that I am sharing....

You must now have realized that work alone is not going to get you places. You need to talk, evangelize, support, energize, and invigorate the work.

As usual, Google guys have got it right with their latest offering.

http://wave.google.com/

My suggestion: Create a group and watch it together. You will have lot of lessons and insights to change your work practices.

Note: It is the developer guy who speaks, types fast (uses spell checker in right way) and yea dances too. The PM just prompts.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Low Budgets, Less Time introduces stereotypes and constraints

Isn't it ?

When you are looking for quick solutions "NOW", you tend to ask and see what majority people use and buy. You seem to think that if it works for them, it will work for you as well. Further, such instances lead to dire needs, that you intend to cut the "desired" features and go for the basic stuff "that works", a compromise.

Thus you make the purchase, lest allow the sales person earn his "incentive" (I was told to use this word, instead of commission) through his skills on selling. A "bad" situation indeed.

In other instances, you understand the need and desire for a solution that eases some time off you. You have been doing the job and now, with a little automation for a small fee, try to do more with earlier constraints removed. The catch is this. For a better budget, you get to free "all" your time for better and productive tasks. But inflicting self constraints and not opening up, leads to desired vs accepted level gap.

What do sellers and vendors do.
  1. Do what is accepted by majority, that is create stereotypes, thereby innovating a solution at bottom pyramid.
  2. Put limitations/constraints on the solution, as to what is delivered and leave what is possible, for better times, thus manage time.
See what has happened? When both consumer and producer should work and concentrate on the "solution", both are now looking at "cost and time" and fitting the solution inside the slot machine.

Hence, please give sufficient time to allow for work, iterations, discussions, wider feedback to get the best bang for your buck. Instead of going down a range, try moving within a range judiciously, to accept/tweak feature/functionality that are desirable and useful.

Any alternate line of thoughts, welcome.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Knowledge - Skill Trade Off.

For working adults and for business, Knowledge is a liability. Proficiency is an asset.

Coming from a professional making living selling and consulting on e-Learning content, this might be strange. But it is true. We go to campus to hire graduates knowledgeable in software, concepts and programming languages. But after few years, it is experience and the work done that is of prime importance and interviews than the same knowledge with which you entered the industry. People with high degree of knowledge and low on adaptation of them as skills do not get the same success as they get in academic world.

In smaller organizations, the theme is "Learn on the Job". This means, they need to apply the knowledge and gain the skills. If not known, they need to pick up the skills to deliver it on time. If they do not gain the full knowledge but are skilled, they are better and reliable resources.

My favorite pet theme in initiating a new member is "Welcome to the unlearn land"
Imparting e-Learning or training in businesses for giving knowledge, is not a worthy investment. The best way to gain knowledge still is the school or college system. So, if resources are in need of knowledge, say financial management, it would be a good investment to sponsor their education in school. But if the resource needs skill, say in managing cash flows of the company, then e-Learning would be best medium to re-tool them to become productive resources.

To achieve this, Multiple views, multiple presentations for same content, multiple situations, should be made available to users to let them gain the knowledge for the job requirement a.k.a skill.

Self Evaluation Case Study:

I majored in Computer Science and later on a Management degree program. They definitely made me where I am. But how many books, theories, do I use in real life ? Rather, when I joined my first company, we were moving away from Authorware and Java to HTML/Javascript. Javascript fascinated me and I was one among the prime movers into that technology.

How was it possible ? Obviously Yahoo and Google searches helped.
Was it one site, one author, one training provider, one professor, one mentor, who helped me in it ?
Definitely no. It was multiple sites, multiple code snippets, various coding styles, multiple mentors, knowledgeable peers, multiple books that helped me gain the proficiency.

Would it be possible for an organization to provision them to their employees?

Yes, with mashable and single source script/storyboard, it is possible to create multiple delivery mediums and content streams in the same cost that it makes to create an elaborate training program.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Skills for a Learning Professional

The Learning Circuits Blog question for the month: "What new skills and knowledge are required for learning professionals?" coincides with a similar discussion, me and my colleague are having over at Ning: explore learning solutions forum.

These are not new skills, but should be in must have checklist.

Self management skills required:
1. Use of task management software to track tasks and time. I recommend todolist

2. Knowledge of MS Excel: While most learning professionals are experts in word, power point, knowing MS excel is more important. Leaving it as a managers tool for tracking is not a good understanding of the software itself.

Few important skills required in excel are:
  • Linking cells,
  • Frequently used formulas,
  • Conditional Formatting,
  • Work with data manipulation and Report sheets,
  • Pivot table and Pivot charts.
With above skills, Solution that excel could provide are:
  • Information Architecture,
  • Content Analysis/Course Outline/Gap Analysis,
  • Incident/Bug Tracking
  • Questionnaires: Learning Needs Analysis, Customer Satisfaction Surveys, Polls
  • Wire frame and Prototype through Excel
  • Project Tracking and Project Management tasks like resource allocation, planning
  • Store Code/Visual Templates and Code Libraries

3. Understand the final output architecture. If it is going to be in HTML, then it is better to avoid transition effects (unless recent javascript frameworks like EXTJS, JQuery are used.) If it is flash, then the instruction area, size, total word count, how to handle scrolls need to be understood. Check if the text input format is XML, text file, from database, or an object file or is directly embedded in flash/HTML.

If RAD (Rapid Application Development) tools are used, what are their limitations, how much customization and tweaks are possible.

An important question that any learning professional should answer is: How soon will RAD deliver by end output ready for release?

4. Usability and User Experience guidelines and intermediate level of heuristic parameter knowledge in visual communication and functionality design.

For providing Great Solutions:

1. Understand mind mapping and use effective tools: I recommend Free Mind.
2. Record and Note every expectation, instructions and sequencing and structuring progress. I recommend Evernote.
3. Learn XML: The first place to start would be "W3School" e-Learning courses.
4. Learn Manifest file in SCORM: I really do not know why technical people create them, while it is ID who should be checking the LO chunks and create IDREF.
5. Read books: Recommended reading would include:
1. System Thinking Books
Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge, Seeing Forest for Trees by Dennis Sherwood

2. Consulting Books
McKinsey Mind, Seven C's of Consulting

3. Presentation and Training Books.
How to Wow with Power point, Show Biz Training

and anything you like. The key is read books in lateral areas.

Top Agile Blogs