Strategy and Individuality in small teams

March 20, 2014 Leave a comment

First things first. The highly overrated and beaten to death word ‘strategy’ is actually relevant and it oozes back into conversations every now and then.

‘Strategy is not about outcomes but about people deriving outcomes’ said Colin Eden during the discussions. The process of ‘making strategy’ is more of an eye-opener to many than they accept and show. Of course, the process and content matters, that decides if the experience and outcomes are ‘inclusive’ or not. 

A comprehensive ‘Deriving Strategy’ process can be broadly classified into two environments – Transaction and Contextual.

Transaction environment would comprise of assessing uncertainties in the outside environment in which the team does business – political, economical, societal, technological, environmental and legal (or other forms of macro-environmental factors scanning) factors that affect the business in an agreed time-frame (say next 5 years). The process requires equal participation and deliberation of voicing issues from all members, called ‘Procedural Rationality’. This part of making strategy is probably, (forgive my limited knowledge of Indian MNCs) found completely missing in the Indian big hot-shot organisations. 

Contextual environment scanning comprises of participants ‘calling out loud’ their companies assets and competencies. Followed by categorizing them into distinctive assets and competencies and deriving a common understanding of what the business is all about (leading to your mission, vision statements). In the process, identifying hurdles, bad assumptions and real problems.

For small teams, making strategy is much more simpler. Making strategy is actually a very individualistic process – every individual voices own opinion and the collective decisions are made based on consensus (they should be if they are not). This does not implicate that the final outcome will be in-line with everyone’s aspirations or personal understanding. If every member shows respect and compassion, essential for a little bit of compromise on personal ego, the outcomes can be life changing. 

Going a bit more realistic, think trekking with your fiancee (as an amateur). When you begin at the foot of that hill at say, 9 am, the objective is to reach the top. 10 mins into the climb, you start to feel nausea and you realize that  you had too much to eat at the breakfast buffet – while she ate light and had warned you to eat light as well. She has to slow down every now and then because of you as she wants to stick together as a team. You eventually recover and pick pace but now the sun is too hot as you lost time with slowness. Sticking to the objective, you both still continue uphill. At every crossroad, you both suggest different routes to climb up – one of you wins the path-finder battle and both take the same path, eventually reaching the hilltop together. The agenda is that climbing that hill is a very personal, individual achievement at every step – your breath, your energy, your back, your feet. But the joy, for you, is in doing it together. In achieving the success with the team.

The most important facet of strategy is ‘communication’ and the way its exercised. Individuals matter. A ‘buy-in’ matters.    

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Bye bye Whatsapp

February 20, 2014 4 comments

Image

This was Aug 3 2009. Today, he made them buy what he built. Kudos to him on that front.

What is (was?) Whatsapp: 

  • ‘Mobile only’ (Not mobile first) approach that doesn’t ask users for password and email to login. Phone number becomes the ID
  • Lean clean simple communication application with No Ads! No gimmicks! No games!
  • +450 million active users with c.72% daily engagement 
  • 32 people crew (only) maintained 99.9% up-time
  • 0 (zero) penny ever invested on marketing or user acquisition. No PR or marketing team involved.. ever. 10 happy customers burgeoned into 450 m

Once delivered, messages are (were?) deleted from their server, automatically. This no longer holds true as their new owner – Facebook wants to know everything about you, save all your chat history and give it away to third party integrator.

So long Whatsapp! Over to Telegram for now who fittingly claims – ‘taking back our right to privacy’

Artistic Edge

Feedback is reverent ! Constructive criticism can frame and reframe experiences very fluidly, producing extraordinary results.

The process of professional peer review can be dated back to 9th Century when a visiting physician’s notes were reviewed against patients health to determine medication effectiveness. Over the ages, the art of reviewing and critiquing has evolved for good. Peer review gives a whole new meaning to self regulation by involving professionals in order to match benchmarks, meliorate performance and add credibleness to work.

It is said that mind plays tricks on us because we only see the watersheds we expect to see and fail to register the signal that direct us to the fact that we are still sailing. Rational technical minds accentuate on control and predictability of outputs. Only one reference of misplay is anchoring, often, so many of us get fixed on the first solution that appears correct, even if something hints us of it being wrong.

Best creative works in the world are often a result of conscious or intuitive reframing that take advantage of multiple perspectives and imaginations wandering in the courageous world of uncertainty where the palette of ideas is not bound by limits and outputs are loaded with powerful stimulus.Artists are known to communicate experiences in ways which flesh-out raw energies, feelings, nuances and unveil new possibilities – through a combination of interpretations.

Image Courtesy : Anusha Ravi

Student Designers is about creative interpretation of design. They encourage artistic conception of design which enhances it and makes it more expressive – beyond today’s realities into new forms that empower collective performance. Click, Draw, Refit, Reframe, Poetry, bring it on and be open to feedback !

The “Emerge” Experience

November 1, 2011 3 comments

October 29th 2011 :  The city of Oxford charmed me the moment I set my foot down from the National Express after the tiring overnight journey. My colleagues from Strathclyde Graduate School of Business and I stepped into Said Business School, to attend The Emerge Conference. I must appreciate the promptness and hospitality of Emerge organizers – something every Event Manager should learn from.  Everything was on time and at its place.Even the numbers were accounted for, with precision.

The conference began at 10:00 with Bill Strickland‘s talk. Sitting in the front row, right in front of the podium, did not make me any special. Hundreds of people in the Nelson Mandela Theatre were awestruck and speechless after his 30 minutes phenomenal talk. An Standing Ovation came willingly and naturally from every individual in that theatre that day. He shared his life’s journey from being a pilot to making a difference in thousand’s of people’s lives. The key takeaway from his talk was that Environment Drives Behaviour.  The impact and storyline of his talk can be read on the twitter stream that was running alongside his talk – http://goo.gl/FCNVu  and to get a glimpse of his talk – you could view one of those old videos from youtube. One of the tweets was by Rajeeb Dey, to which I responded, expressing my interest in his talk and to my surprise, Rajeeb responded to my tweet, welcoming me to attend his event.

Following Bill’s talk, attendees had a choice of attending sessions that suited their interests. I chose to attend Breaking into the  field : What are my options by 1.) Charmian Love, CEO, Volans, 2.) Rajeeb Dey, CEO & Founder, Enternships.com & 3.) Amy Birchall, Director, Client Services, Volans

Enternships.com has been something that I followed from the Hacker News post some 3 and half years ago, linked it to Startup Britain Post on HN on its launch and just out of curiosity, I always kept surfing enternships.com  when I was working in India. I chose to attend Rajeeb Dey’s talk , because frankly, I admire what he has achieved at such a young age. The talk was very enriching because apart from the speakers, even the audience was very mature and had serial social entrepreneurs from as far as China, Egypt, Mexico and South Africa – who continuously added value to the conversations by raising critical questions and also answering other’s questions through their rich and varied experiences. Rajeeb Dey allowed other speakers to lead, and later he talked about his experiences and journey in launching enternships.com and answered a few specific questions about Social Innovation & Entrepreneurship, Market Analysis of an idea, etc. Charmain Love concluded the talk with her traditional TOP 10 LIST. I got an opportunity to speak with Rajeeb one on one and he humbly listened to my specific questions on how to go about market analysis of a startup plan. My ideas were inspired by Getting Real‘s ideology of “scratching your own itch”. He recommended a test run for the idea and promised to reply in detail if I wrote to him.

Dell Social Innovation Competition opened for feedback session right after lunch where I networked with participating students and entrepreneurs  from Oxford University, Hult Business School, Bath University, Durham University, etc. I shared my Business Plan (orally) with them all and received a very positive feedback.  After making some minor changes, I submitted the 1 page written Business Plan for Judge’s review. At 5:00 pm, Dell team invited last year’s winners Takataka Solution to talk about their experience, who later announced that out of 20 competitors, they chose 4 entries based on their own criteria. My business case could not make it to the final 4 which led me into a lot of introspection of writing a quality business plan. Rajeeb Dey’s reply to my email also talked about the same steps which I now plan to execute, next.

October 30th 2011 : Met Shaad Hamid who was very humble, hospitable and open minded about sharing his expertise and knowledge. After patiently listening to my work experience and career goals, he  devised and recommended strategies for me on the fly. The experience was very enriching and inspirational. “Finding those gaps” ! Thanks Shaad.

The Emerge Conference was a huge Networking opportunity and an eye opener in terms of what I need to focus on during my MBA at SGBS. I would like to thank my previous employers – Deepak Ramchandran and Ajay Ramchandran from SourceN for allowing me to use their product “Livecampus” for my Business Plan on a very very short notice. The idea has now grown from just an idea, to my passion – Thank you, Emerge !

Human Aspects of Information Technology

This is an archived post from February 2009 :
I have mentioned the topic in my previous posts at my BLOGSPOT BLOG and I kept working on it. Finally things took shape and I addressed a Radio Talk show at Planet Satyam, a Radio/Live webcast portal. I got rewarded with a STAR award for the same, so I would like to pen down a little about the whole ASPECT.
Most of what I have spoken/written and am presenting below about HASE , are not my original ideas, I am only showcasing/quoting it to the world for awareness/promotion of the topic in discussion.I have used the first hand knowledge and lecture notes of Prof Sanjay Goel, who inspired me yet again and motivated me to write about HASE. I have used various internet sources to study the topic and am using the knowledge I gained from them, for my details.
HASE, as we called in JIIT in the final semester, under Prof Sanjay Goel – HOD (CS & IT), deals with other side of technology, the Human Aspects, and I try to share my understanding of the subject with real life examples and scenarios , dividing the topic in three parts :

  •  Professional
  •  Social and
  •  Personal
Here is how I outline it :
Computers have become an essential part of all the engineered products and if we classify, there are four key components which collectively formulate an information systems :

  1. Hardware,
  2. Software,
  3. Tactic/Methodology and
  4. People.
There has been a gradual advancement in the skills to build such systems, primarily by

  1. Developing consistent hardware,
  2. Second by developing robust and precise programming languages, and
  3. Third by the use of well-connected development methodologies.

To tryst there has been a lack of prominence of the ‘people component’ in software engineering of any information technology based system. With gradual maturity in Software Industry and community, it is accepted that the people concerned in software development processes deserve more concentration and attention than the processes or technologies. We hear more and more about failures due to computers: Software errors have resulted in loss of life, destruction of property, failure of businesses, and environmental harm. Computers now have the potential for destabilizing our financial system.

What is HASE and why is it important to be educated about?
Human Aspects of Software Engineering details software engineering from the perception of those involved in the process: individuals, teams, customers, and the organization. It covers the problems, questions, and conflicts that arise during various phases of Software Development Life Cycle. The importance of these issues is widely acknowledged in the industry and academia, because most or all of the failures of software systems can be traced to human factors.
PROFESSIONAL ASPECTS OF HASE:

Definition of profession from Wikipedia….
Profession is an occupation that requires extensive training and the study and mastery of specialized knowledge, and usually has a professional association, ethical code and process of certification or licensing and that is exactly what various corporate trainings aim at in worldwide MNC’s.
There are various Professional dilemmas we go through every now and then. Let us try to answer the followings:

  • Companies fire fresh recruits immediately after their failure in training. Should they not be more careful while choosing?????
  • Xyz felt that there were problems with the software project, but could not decide when to reveal it to the management. If he would discuss this while it was just a suspicion, he may be over-reacting to a situation; or if he left it too late, it may be impossible to resolve the difficulties.…
  • Whistle blowing is exposing some unsolicited practices that go on inside any organization, and being discreet at the same time. Do it or not to do it?

.. And I am sure many of you would be relating to one of your own professional dilemma by now. Let me now highlight the ACM/IEEE ethics laid down for Software Engineers which every Software Engineer must be aware of, keeping in mind the aforementioned points for bringing respect to our profession and maintain highest order of dignity and humanity and avoid all sorts of professional dilemmas. (I wonder how is it that NONE of the IT professionals, whatever be their hierarchy, are aware about its existence) :

  • PUBLIC – Software engineers shall act consistently with the public interest.
  • CLIENT AND EMPLOYER – Software engineers shall act in a manner that is in the best interests of their client and employer consistent with the public interest.
  • PRODUCT – Software engineers shall ensure that their products and related modifications meet the highest professional standards possible.
  • JUDGMENT – Software engineers shall maintain integrity and independence in their professional judgment.
  • MANAGEMENT – Software engineering managers and leaders shall subscribe to and promote an ethical approach to the management of software development and maintenance.
  • 6. PROFESSION – Software engineers shall advance the integrity and reputation of the profession consistent with the public interest.
  • COLLEAGUES – Software engineers shall be fair to and supportive of their colleagues.
  • SELF – Software engineers shall participate in lifelong learning regarding the practice of their profession and shall promote an ethical approach to the practice of the profession.
SOCIAL ASPECTS OF HASE:

The social aspect of HASE speaks volume of Peer pressure (friends, group, society or any other outer influence) and other psychological and sociological issues confronted by Software Engineers in life. Many would quietly agree of peer pressure driving them to stay late in office and do the work that is not supposed to be done by them otherwise. There are many social, environmental, and ethical consequences of computer technology that I shall be highlighting in “The killer Robot case” ,the overuse of resources such as paper, petroleum, electricity, deforestation for ‘I.T. workspace buildings’ , piracy, privacy, hacking, etc. No light is being thrown on the existence of very famous Digital divide which is increasing very speedily .There are numerous social responsibilities and of software engineers towards nature. HASE teaches us about Risks and liabilities of computer-based systems, various technological disasters, software failure. Highlighting some points of HASE about how IT can help in sustainability:

  1. Enhancing awareness.
  2. Using IT for holistic system modeling and simulation.
  3. Reduce the paper needs.
  4. Reduce the fuel/energy needs.
  5. Reduce the travel needs.
  6. Green IT processes (IT manufacturing, deployment, and hardware replacement etc.) Sensitive and responsive to sustainability.
  7. Green Software engineering (developing efficient code that gives new life to existing hardware rather than create the need to replace it)
I for one always TURN OFF my computer when I leave office, even if I leave early, I do not worry about my communicator status and turn off the machine. I encourage all my colleagues to do the same.
There is a very famous fictitious “The Killer Robot Case” by Richard G. Epstein, in which the ROBOT operator gets KILLED by the robot while operating it due to various reasons. The book has various illustrations on the internet. Central to the theme of the book is the idea that new media has had a dramatic impact and has not been fully realized. Let me very quickly review the book:

  • At Silicon Techtronic’s, the robotics division chief, Johnson, put pressure on the project manager Reynolds to finish Robbie CX 30 – a robot project by January. Johnson hired 20 new programmers in June against Reynolds’ will, by shifting resources. Johnson only knew manufacturing hardware. One cannot speed software coding by adding more programmers.
  • Programmer was a prima donna: could not accept criticism or his own fallibility and under pressure to finish project on time
  • The project was controversial from the beginning
  • Jan Anderson, a programmer, was fired after she attacked project manager Reynolds on his decision to use the waterfall methodology versus the prototype methodology.
  • Reynolds was replacing a dead project manager as a cost saving measure instead of hiring someone from outside the company. He never worked with robotics before.
  • Tester faked the test results under pressure from the manager and then resigned. This was revealed from the email which got leaked through the office mailboxes.
  • In the end, the robot operator, Bart Matthews, was decapitated and killed by his robot, Robbie CX30, while at work as he failed to switch on the Num-lock key light and hence the robot malfunctioned.
  • A programmer, Randy Samuels, who wrote the faulty code at Silicon Techtronic’s, was indicted for manslaughter.
Who is to be blamed?
  • The programmer who made a careless mistake?
  • The designer?
  • The robotics division?
  • The company?
  • The operator of the robot? The faulty knowledge transfer to the operator?
  • Or the robot?
Ethical issues:
  • Email privacy
  • Professional ethics: delivering bug-free software
  • Plagiarism-intellectual property
  • Honor confidentiality
  • ACM code of ethics
Many issues in the book fall cleverly short of a conclusion and force the reader to ask questions such as:
  • Who gets held responsible for computers/”intelligent” machines that malfunction and cause harm (even death) due to faulty or malicious programming?
  • Is the current global political paradigm equipped to handle social issues on a virtual global network? If not, what authoritative entity will? Can?
  • Does High technology dull our sensitivity to the real world?
  • Are computers and parallel technologies changing the way we think for the better?
  • What “Human Being” skills (like conversation) are being lost because of computer technologies?
  • What prevents artificial intelligence from becoming artificial stupidity?

These questions may seem offensive to individuals who categorize robustly with automation but they do need to be asked and the answers need to be thoroughly introspective. Can all the technologies in all of history steal our humanity? There comes a point when one needs to apprehend the alliance of being human and the vital significance of using the on/off lever. The control creature exercise is and always has been an issue of self-control/ethical behavior. Artificial Intelligence and computing in general should stay in their places as tools for humans.

PERSONAL ASPECTS OF HASE:
Coming to the thirds part, the personal aspects of HASE talks about Value orientations of individuals as to why be personal values important in life and how they reflect in professional life.
Values must be activated in order to affect behavior. Remember when in kindergarten or grade one, you used to greet your teacher with a loud rhyme of good morning teacher? Personal values can be earned anywhere, from school/college, family, friends, religion, culture, etc. Anything relating to a moral practice can be referred to personal values. Personal values make the real you.
Personal aspect of HASE talks about organizational values as basic requirement for any organization to grow without which there would be no respect for any organization and the world would look at the organization as any other shop where they sell rotten potatoes. If each individual will start following his/her own PERSONAL VALUE system in professional life, there will be a complete mismatch in the professional goals and most plans would fail just in an attempt to get everyone together. Hence both, personal values and organizational values, need to go hand in hand for individual growth and the growth of the organization.
HASE helps us to understand various Personality theories. To brief personality theory, there exist 2 kinds of people in IT industry, type A and type B. Type A are those who are impatient, time conscious, and very insecure about their status and position, leading to mental mayhem and fight with self. Type B are people who are over peaceful with self and go careless about their status and work resulting in firing and loss of job, hence, the ‘human’ factor.
Most important of all, the personal aspect of HASE highlights the importance of APPRAISAL. I have read a story of 2 people who worked day and night, literally, day and night, for the delivery of a particular project. They forgot to sleep, eat and put their work ahead of everything else, since it was very critical for their company and circle’s reputation. The project did excellent and brought accolades from all around. At the time of appraisal, they were poorly rated on baseless and non existing reasons. Those who boosted them with motivating speeches during the project execution now turned their back to these two. Poor fellows could never get to know the real reason because of hierarchical structure and more because they had to see through the 1 year bond that they had with their company, so all they did was, said “let it be” and moved on. But never again, could they respect their reporting manager or the work, hence their attitude completely changed and excellent, innocent, enthusiastic young minds were guttered to hatred and dislike for the otherwise good industry.
Lets just peep into one such methodology AGILE SOFTWARE DEVELOPMENTwhich has constantly been a hot topic of debate as against SDCL approach. Those who hold top hierarchical positions are out rightly against the promotion of AGILE methodology. AGILE methodology, and particularly the SCRUM flavor is : SELF ORGANIZING and NON HIERARCHICAL. It promotes FACE to FACE, verbal communication over the traditional written communication. Everything in AGILE approach falls in line with HUMAN factor and I did my best to promote the same through my session deliveries and informal talks with colleagues.
CONCLUSION:
Let me leave you at this provoked thought … The rising significance of computers in contemporary society makes the study of Computer Ethics essential when it comes to issues related to the profession such as safety, security, privacy, environmental impact and quality and also in the everyday use of computers –personal or social which gives rise to numerous ethical dilemmas. Every organization should aim at HASE as an important benchmark and include an ethics courses in science and engineering and hence increase the ability of professionals to recognize and solve ethical problems, to accept different moral perspectives and to adopt ethical pluralism. It would develop the skill and pattern of thinking rationally about ethical issues and in that way prepares software professionals, immaterial of their hierarchical status in any organization, for the challenges of their profession.
Categories: Technology and Ethics

The fuss about Quality

January 31, 2011 6 comments

Read on only if you answer in YES to the following :

  1. Are you a natural rebel?
  2. Naturally destructive? Did you break open your home’s television/radio/stereo at 6 just to see how can so many people/voices sit inside a small box ?
  3. Ever felt that you cannot/don’t want to be tied down to a single idea, a single technology, a single programming language? Do you prefer products over technology ?
  4. Ever wanted to hold enough power to govern the system in a way?
  5. Are you creative?…. enough to present constructive criticism?
  6. Do you want to be involved at every stage of a Software Dev Life Cycle rather than stopping at one ?
  7. Do you think you can be ‘jack of all trades and master of none?’

Cool ! You’re reading the right stuff.

Software Testing is generally understood as :

  • Receiving tonnes of documents or half broken prototypes
  • Deriving kilometers long Test Cases from miles long specification documents.
  • Executing the light year long test cases over and over everyday, marking them pass and fail and trying to reach some gorgeous exit criteria based on someone”s unimaginable imagination.

You’d find many myth busters on the web. Here’s the link to one of the good one’s

In a Software world bursting with amazing startups, the meaning of Quality has transformed from a so called low skilled job with small learning curve to a highly skilled job with a very demanding learning capability. Those who could not visualize this – don’t worry – like I said, you’re reading the right stuff.

Today’s Software Testing is not about following a script or a manual – Like you cannot use Ms-dos today, you cannot govern the new age with 20 year old stale rules. Gone are the days when hardly educated job seekers were hired as testers – made to write test cases which were suppose to be followed industriously. Today’s industry trusts the Test Engineer’s mind. Yes – Engineers choose to be testers.  Wake-Up ! ………………….. Forget about test driven development, normally, In the agile universe of very smart organizations, Testing begins right from the Estimate phase with Test Identification in shape of easy-to-read Scenarios that covers Compatibility and Usability apart from the Functional and other Non-Functional Testing types.


So where does QA fit into the paradigm of Startups?

Pixel perfection does NOT figure in the must have and comes into play only after the first leg of recognition. In-fact, extremely passionate developers, who are openly sharing knowledge and are driving  today’s technological world with cutting edge technologies – seldom need their work to be checked – they might use some confirmation and feedback at times. Once these organizations have scaled in terms of producing something worthy with some kick-ass tech-crazy people , they look for assuring their quality of work and comes in a QA team…

If you have these qualities it adds to you reading the right stuff here. Being in a startup’s Quality team is like running a start-up, within a start-up. Its the first leg of you being an entrepreneur. You get to innovate, destroy, create , hire , sell, communicate, experiment, err, recover, learn, teach, train, counsel and share while you use cutting edge technologies at work and get to use the products before anyone else in the world. Read Subroto Bagchi’s all three books to get more insight and see if you can relate to whats been said about startups – if you have it in you and few best ways of getting there. In his words, Information Technology is the newest professional compared to human being’s all other professions and the best way to get well versed in it is by learning from the experience of those who’ve been there and done that and of course by making our own mistakes !

I have always said that No technology/process in the world is giant enough to be learnt/conquered by a youth’s mind. Like Vineet Nayar says, Leadership now resides at bottom of the pyramid. So all that matters is the right attitude and the will to learn and excel + the above 7 questions .

If you are a young Bangalorean, you should consider speaking to Ajit Singh for career opportunities and counseling in any Information Technology domain and field and if your adrenaline shot high and you’re all charged up about being your own quality master after reading the fuss about Quality, then speak to Santosh Tuppad

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