Wednesday, 23 February 2011

The Value of Values and Culture

5 yrs ago Kari and Me had a discussion about listing values in various places of the workplace.. Kari had disagreed and mentioned that values should be imbibed and mentored, I agreed that it should be imbibed and mentored to, but I also argued that it should be visible to the team whenever they are in office. When they step in to the office and each one sees that Open mindedness is our key characteristic it will make them realise at a certain point when they are arguing with someone and not ready to accept change which can be good for the organization. I have 2 reasons to write this today...

1. We subscribed to the value of "Initiatives for good" a long time ago. Several team mates initiated a few things and carried them further. This was an awesome thing to happen to our team ever. Some initiatives were just triggered and they were widely and enthusiastically accepted by others.. Be it an initiative to curb a development process or be it a fun activity like playing Carrom tournament in office. For a while I noticed that while we tried and continued to do this.. a big set of team mates [mostly older employees] have lost this value. I see occasions where initiative taken by anyone else is not so widely accepted as earlier, some mates prefer to even run away from it.. for whatever reason this may be. I believe this value though mentored hideously was one key to the success of morals of the team and now that it diminishes, hurts bad. In my attempt to figure out why values get diminished I came across several findings that I write below....

2. Another reason of writing this is my encounter with the book "Delivering Happiness" written by Tony H the CEO of Zappos 2 weeks ago [Thanks to Henrik who wrote a very inspiring email for the Team and Me and referred me to the book]. In his path to make Zappos a more than 120 B company a lot of emphasis was given on Culture, Team and Values... and I must say that his write up explains that it was very important for the Team first to understand what it is... Tony along with Angela send an email to Zappos employees to write down what Zappos culture meant to them.. predominantly the responses became a culture book.. you can find this culture book somewhere on their Team web site...

So as a part of culture building and true value of Values of the team I still feel it is important that your workplace demonstrate the values of your team and company. Of course I now limit this to the development team, but it is important that this is followed for an entirety. Values should just not be consficiated at one layer and ignored at another, subscribed at another.. they have to remain same.. If "Customer is GOD" is one of your values then Customer services should be a factor of greatness not just for your Customer services team, but also your CEO, Sales, Development and even the customers who use your product. I believe if you make your customer happy is just not enough, you have to ensure that you make your customers customer happy by easing up his difficulties.. do you do that? No? Do you want to re-think on your value then?

Anyways.. going back to the way the values and principles diminish... here is what I found when a certain set of values started getting ignored by a few and some of them even took a path of getting diminished...

1. Leaders have to follow. If leads don't, no one will
2. You should never speak about what the problem is, speak about what the solution is... "In doing so the problem is blah blah" gives your team a feeling that they can get away easily by creating a story of a major issue
3. If they want to run away from values, they are not a culture fit. Fire them right away
4. Speak, Do and Speak is the true value mean.
5. Find a way to evolve, if you don't evolve it diminishes.. Water level rises only due to increase in pressure belts
6. Values need to be understood to be followed, if you cannot make them understand it, they wont follow it.
7. Moral policing is negative effect, Moral upbringing is not.
8. Shove out ego's, to shove it out first find the ego's on where they exist

For the issues mentioned in point 1, We are working on it... next few days I would blog on how we handle this issue... I am sure you would be here to read it. In case you have your contributions to our case, please don't hesitate to contribute... One of our inherent values is "Free discussion of Ideas" :)

P.S : Kari sorry for brining this up, and I think in my first post I missed a word that changed the statement, I corrected it.

P.S 2 : The big set of team mates are still great guys to work with, its just that they don't realize they are the future of leadership

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

First get your errors right

Nobody wants to be in an erroneous situation.. I think if you ask 10 people 9 would say "No" to get into an error state at all. But believe me working in the IT industry for so long the reality realm of errors are that they are not very user friendly... Errors are just errors and the programmers argue that showing error stacks just help them debug the error more effectively [whatever happened to debug techniques]. Over last few months working on so many products and platforms I have learnt that the quality of your development is not really in how less bugs they have in the system [I dont deny the fact completely] but on how they handle those erroneous state.

"Your document is locked" is certainly a message but "Your document is locked by X user, Click here to message him to unlock or request a permission change or contact XXXX in case of issue" is much much better.

I believe that the errors that the end user see's demonstrate the quality of your product.. so a Fail Whale is always a better option than an "Unexpected Error" but if the fail whale really gives an information on what to do... would be worth.

An error like this does not help at all....

But a error message like this, can do the trick

So Dev? How do you show your quality of work? Just writing good is not enough... write better error messages.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

I want India to loose the cricket world cup 2011

The morning of 19th February.. I just took the day as it came regularly, the only difference that is it was a weekend and I was more lazy than the regular days. Like every Indian today, I was also waiting for 2:30 PM IST when India takes on Bangladesh in the inaugural match. Just that since morning I kept the Doordarshan Sports logged on to see the highlights of Swimming and Gymnastics.. (One of my friends has called up that his long relation relative won a bronze medal for Maharashtra). All through the events so much of fun and remembered the days when National games were held in Pune, and we from our school had volunteered to drive traffic in the Games township then. BTW for the last 1 week and more everything that I see on the news channels, TV shows is all about cricket and the world cup (people dont expect so much even from their kids or parents as much as they expect from the Indian team)... to a level that even the economy and corruption scams are ignored by the news channels ... The #Egypt uprising and the state of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia , Yemen where the flames of the uprising have reached are not even in the marque tags of the news channels and until you open BBC or Worlds section of Times Of India web site, you ain't going to see anything about it... (Sorry to say but a big chunk of Indians work in these countries and it affects us somehow)

Now back to Cricket as I heard that after 1983, when India won the world cup in the leadership of Sir Kapil Dev, cricket in India became the religion.. and when the god of cricket Sachin Tendulkar as we call it here shoved several centuries in opponents backs.. the cricketing blood just reached all parts of the body.

Now that the world cup has begun and India is almost sure of winning the inaugural match half the nation is busy preparing to watch today, remaining half to just know what happened as they cannot watch it as they have to work or some are not in state of watching it (In hospitals, jails, out of country etc).

I also heard news where LED boards are set so people can watch the world cup at offices, hospitals , jails and other locations.. from Kids to grand pa's and grand mom's are busy thinking cricket... so much that some of them dont even know that the 34th National Games are under way and in the last week has reached the most exciting mode of it... Maharashtra (State where I live) is leading in the medals tally and some real good talent is show casing the talents. Of course this talent is going to be in action in the 2012 London Olympics and I feel pity for those talented folks out there.. who are not even been talked about, while a bunch of cricketers who could not make it to the team are also in the new lime light.

Darn.. so are we getting to be one set of looser's keeping all our hopes on 1 cricket team and ignoring those hard working, talented folks completely? The reason it upsets me so much is that there are announcements already made for Indian cricketers that if they win the world cup they are going to get those millions from the corporates which they sucked out of us as price rise, while the other sports and medal winners wait for getting basic amenities to practice for the 2012 big games.

Well if that is the case.. that our other national heroes and talents are going to be ignored.. just so that cricket can be watched .. I think India should loose.. Let the people understand that our emotions are biased and we need to balance so that we can give some level of precedence to other sports too..

TV Channels should be forced to stream news of national games and other such events ONLY in PRIME SLOTS. Cricketers selling us briefs and vests, soaps and shampoos, tooth paste and chips either should be watched as they are the one's who are shouting these days that they are playing too much of cricket... somebody tell them that they are the one's who are seen too much too on the TV and in late night social parties and page 3's.

We need to loose the 2011 world cup, once so that people realise that we have some Saina Nehwal's and Veerdhawal Khade's who can get us to International glory in other sports... they also need sponsors and promoters and fans so that they can be motivated and play for the country and achieve more.

I honestly subscribe to my view that no matter what happens in the world cup... if cricket is going to suck the blood of every Indian.. we need some blood donations to keep the other sports alive... last 6 days the national games have gone unnoticed... and I am sure talents like Khade who won 5 medals for Maharashtra and many such talents will not be talked about because people want to watch, talk and hear cricket. We need to loose this one so we are woken up before 2011 Olympic games to prepare.

P.S : When I published this on one of blog's.. I had 18 abusive comments that inspired me to write it on all possible media I use.

P.S 2 : The only reason this post is here, is that events and projects need good level of management and motivation. If you are going to split your focus not evenly balanced you gonna suck up bad.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

What is Team work?

So much said about it... I am sure I am not adding a big deal. But a question a few days ago really kept hammering my mind that why is team work only about success? If Indian cricket team does not win a game, that doesn't mean they are lacking team work... the effort and the hard work still remains... a lot of people for some reason really don't understand what it is really meant by team work... I really don't blame for that... Our systems do not teach us team work theoretically.. we always learn it by experience... by participating in group and team events, by been collectively responsible to reach goals and success defined clearly.

I always felt soccer was the best game that exposes team work very evidently, not that other sports don't.. but if you want to defend yourself from a goal or score one, or just play the game, there is a lot of co-ordination needed.. this co-ordination really builds up a momentum within which turns into team work as a result.. Team work to me was always visible through sport and as I got into job became evident that if the organization , product , department or group has to do good, the entire set of people who are a part of it, should contribute to it, not just on what is required, but more than what is expected... When the successes and strengths of your colleagues start adding value to your own self and in turn to your group goals, that is when you see team work kicking off... when each one of the team member start contributing in equal amounts or more without keeping a count of when team work blooms out.

When you do just more than what is required to help others who are working with you to achieve the same thing is Team work

When your commitment is visible by your actions Team work blooms

When you are disappointed by failures of your team mates or goals have created a peer index of team work.

When you celebrate your teams and your results success that is team work

In short... when your teams success values more for you than your own success.. it yields to team work.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Ways you are forced to kiss failure

No matter how Alpha, Beta, Omega or Gamma types of project manager you are.. if you refer to Johanna Rothman's post on Don't start a project with scarcity you would be convinced that if you have to succeed on a project make sure you don't start out of scarcity. However is the situation ever in your hand? Are you as a Project Manager allowed to make a decision on when to start a project? and with what resources? Well I read the answer on your face... NO.. You are never.

One day your Boss will come and say "There is a X million deal on the table, now go and kick this off".. The best part of this is that your end date is already decided by the deal. You may or may not have resources, you may or may not have requirements, you may or may not know what to do, you may or may not have the right skills to do.. but a certain part of the project is definitely and permanently defined...

So then what Johanna said is very much correct, but just not it.. there are many other things that you start out of scarcity and result in you ending up running on the autobahn of the FAILURE...As a Project Manager these are those few things I thought I would list down for you.. these are those things that are forced on you, so that you can kiss death.. and of course, remember you are the cost, quality, delivery owner on this.

So what are those things that come to you in such a hurry that you don't even get a breathing space to digest it and then work it out.. here you go.....

1. Hire X people, Y customer is going to sign a Z amount of deal in A days.. till then you are the only one to work on it
2. No projects get released without pressure, I am sure you would do it. Put maximum pressure everywhere to get the best quality work in least time
3. If we don't fool them, someone else will.. so even if we know its not possible, lets say we will do it and review the status after sometime..
P.S You own this project
4. I think X can do the job well. Just put him on the best role. If he screw's up the project, you are responsible

5. You get me a project plan while I define what you should be doing in this project, I don't know yet on what I want.
6. Why don't you start working on this , the requirement will be defined as we move on.. I am yet to figure out  what I want
7. I want this feature, I don't know how it will work.. neither does our customer
8. I want an Amazon, that would work like Google, get me revenue like Microsoft, quality of which is like Apple, it perform on a load like twitter and is as popular as Facebook. Now do it.

9. I can't estimate, I will let you know when it finishes.
10. I was supposed to deliver this yesterday, but I need more time, how much? I don't know yet
11. Quality is what we have to compromise on because of 1, 2, and 3
12. How can we test a product that is not fully developed? It is just unstable..
13. We cannot fully test it as we need more time, actually more time than we took for developing it.

Now if you see any of these lines hitting you during or in the beginning of your projects...take a step back. Wait, define the risks, let them be floated. Take a big new wall and paint it in BOLD and strong letters "X Project can fail if we don't"

List down the reasons... and put it in front of the stakeholders cabins.. let them see this every moment so they know under what conditions you work in.... Till then... think of better ways you can handle these issues...

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

What is it like to have a healthy workspace?

Some body asked a question on Quora .. on how to create a healthy work environment with respect to the workspace not a cultural aspect included really... reminded me of a post written way back in September on Healthy Environments But I think that is not enough.. I missed to cover the healthy workspace issue for which I am fighting and struggling now for almost months.. So what is a healthy workspace structure?

Free Will
A structure that helps engineers or team members push their chairs and roll to the desk of his pair or team mate. A structure that will help the engineers to freely move in and around the office. No heavy cubicle structures, no heavy barriers. I really think the studio type structures helps free space all over and also effects the luxury to have a free will space for the engineers. Of course if you are not a development team and you have clients and customers visiting you very often, it doesn't make sense to have this type of structure. In such cases better keep a separate space a bit away from the development section.

Loads of NON CHAIR related sitting arrangements
Sofa, cushions, bean bags , lazy rolls help the engineers take a break from the regularly back-aching chairs.. A set of bean bags lying around helps people to pick there laptops and start working from there.. of course helps the teams light approach.

A bit of fun, jokes around is very much required. People obsessed with silence and concentration phobia are the only blockers, but there is always this need to get them involved. Fun activities needs to be done only in the workspace and not in conference rooms.. I sometimes prefer gatherings and announcements in the open areas.. so other teams can also have a glimpse of it. Builds a liking towards a team as a whole..

The bit of Noise
Light music is always inspiring, people talking , debating around is highly effective. If you have everyone with their headsets on listening to their own choices of music it is like working in a graveyard. I also prefer rotational DJ's unfortunately not many takers always. A central music system lets you learn choices of people.. helps people go and ask DJ to demand for specific music to be played.

UnPrivate Affairs
NO to Cubicles and cabins.. If managers and leads are going to sit in cabins, they are away from what is happening. Not that you should be placed to supervise / monitor people.. but been with the team helps you understand the day to day issues. You will always find leaders sitting with teams to be more interactive and pleasant than ones sitting in cabins.. of course not to forget you have to face those meaningless cribbers who whine about everything and some scared goats who cannot give you feedback openly. Who cares for them anyways?

Loaded Interactions
Promote and prosper the culture of open interactions.. I always like to jump into conversations and talk about things.. this helps build a good rapport and understanding of people's principles, values and attitudes. No matter people call you nosy or not.. ensure that open interactions are a part of your culture.
A decent floor plan for an interactive agile team

Smiling faces
If there are none.. you were as well good at those government offices with fat bellies all around you.

Visible walls
Have walls that puts Team events, status of teams work and agile boards.. of course visible to everyone. Try to not keep these walls with stale data.. a stale wall represents the laziness of the team.

Play areas 
Small areas where you can play a short few handy games.. like a mini cycle, a game of one touch cricket, a bit of golf etc. Rolling soft toys, balls and gadgets whats the harm if you have a developer with a barbie doll on his desk?

Monday, 7 February 2011

The value of NOCOMPLAINTS diet

Yes.. for the last 4 days I am on a NOCOMPLAINTS diet.. I think a term I learnt from some comment on a blog.. the idea of the NOCOMPLAINTS diet is to regain the positivity and improvise the mental health. Of late I have learnt that the smallest complaint that you make can cause a mental block to your life, day schedules and general progress through a day. Following the famous General Motors diet that cleanses your body in 7 days and feels you a few pounds lighter, I am glad to say that I expect the NOCOMPLAINT diet to do the same for me.

Make me feel lighter and restore and clean my brain. The NOCOMPLAINT diet is a pretty simple diet spread across 5 days..

Day 1
NO COMPLAINTS about items that dont affect directly
Be it politics, world, roads, etc etc. restrain from any feedback on such items on online presense.
List down issues restrained

Day 2
List down issues restrained

Day 3
List down issues restrained

Day 4
Communicate the concerns with potential solutions.
Apologize, Suggest, Recomend without complaining

Day 5
Feel Light.

I must say that it did not go well for me for the first 2 days.. I tried as much as I could, but its never too easy. Not that I whine a lot, but in the end it was OK. Day 3 and 4 were relaxing.. a weekend, more time, listed down a few issues with certain people.. had coffee and lunch with them.. sorted out issues.. and today I feel great.. the 5th Day is fully enlightening...

Well if you have time and patience yourself... dont hesitate to try this one out... 5 days of NO COMPLAINTS.