Thursday, September 8, 2011

Project Management Approach to Nation Building

This week in Bangalore at the PMI National Conference 2011, I had the pleasure of hearing India's former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam on the topic of Project Management Approach to Nation Building. A truly inspirational speech which exhorted the audience of mostly project managers to be leaders and create leaders in the task of nation building. Dr Kalam recounted his experiences in ISRO and DRDO around project management.

The question I had formulated to ask the eminent speaker and which was expressed in most of the questions from the rest of the audience was to solicit his views on tackling corruption - one of the big obstacles to nation building which has been brought under the spotlight  very harshly in recent times.
In his replies, Dr Kalam beseeched parents and teachers to instill in their children a value system which prevents the very thought of corruption as a normal way of life. This would lead to a revolution of truth with the youth brigade leading the charge and which questions their elders and seniors when and where they see a wrong practice - be it in their homes itself.

He also pointed to the initiatives in e-governance which he had started while he was President of India, and pointed out the transparency and accountability this inherently brings in public dealings.
Another very powerful concept that Dr Kalam elaborated was creating a Brand of Integrity around oneself which then permeates to the environment around one and starts increasing the Circle of Integrity. He explained how due to this brand of integrity which he himself followed and promoted, in his 40 years of experience in dealing with public funds as well as dealings with government officials and people's representatives, no one ever asked him to do anything wrong. That is the value which his Brand of Integrity confers on him and his work.

Dr Kalam asked us to take a pledge to work with integrity and suceed with integrity. He also pointed out the importance of managing failures better than managing success.

A few key take-aways from his speech on project management for nation building -
- What worked yesteday is not going to work in today's changing, tumultous and volatile times. The focus has indeed shifted from
  • availability of resources to availability of knowledge,
  • hierarchy to synergy,
  • command to facilitation,
  • order to empower and
  • seniority or authority to creativity
My earlier blog postings on a similar topic is listed here for relevance. The redundancy of hierarchies

Thursday, July 14, 2011

You Are The Traffic

There is a sign on a busy stretch of highway in Luton which says "You are not stuck in traffic. You are the traffic." Really makes one think. Many have been the times when we have been wistful about ideal scenarios and how we wish things were better around us. What we probably do not realise is how much we contribute to the problem itself.

If we are not engaged in working towards making things better, then definitely we are making things worse. If we do not provide the solution we are a part of the problem. My exhortation to you today is -


Look around you in your work environment and I am sure you will be able to make a list of 10 processes which hinder your work in some way or the other, making you inefficient or making you spend family time at work or making you put in heroic efforts. And as I have noted earlier in my trilogy on The Elusive Business Process, heroic efforts are a sure shot indication that things are being run in an ad hoc manner.

Here are a few tips on how to identify what is not working in your organisation -
1. Hours spent in escalation calls and on e-mail - If your employees are spending most of their time handling e-mail, it is a sure shot indication of processes which do not work. Any transaction which cannot be handled by the process, lands up in the inbox. The amount of time your team spends on e-mail will be directly proportional to the time you as a manager will spend on handling escalation calls and mails.
If you are encouraging completion of transactions on e-mail, you are contributing to the problem. A transaction handled on the e-mail, while resulting in temporary instant gratification, does not solve the problem permanently. Primarily the information and the solution remains confined to the few people involved in the mail. And reply-all does not solve the problem either.
2. Innovation in routine transactions - Innovation is good. But we do not want all our employees to start innovating in their daily routine chores. That is supposed to be run blind-folded and only taken up for process improvement or SLA impprovements. Routine can even be questioned as to whether it is indeed adding any value to the company. But once established as a required value-add task, it should not have to be perforce improvised upon to get anything done around here.
3. Personal interactions and rapport get things done - Another clear indication that process is not working. All good behaviours in themselves but as tools to get work done, it indicates your organisation will not survive the next round of exodus. This also leads to processes which get enforced for few people and get bypassed for few others who have a good rapport.
4. Lack of workflows and automation - Lack of software or existence of software which does not have workflows is another factor leading to things that do not work. Basically this leads to a breakdown of information flow across functions that are supposed to deliver the goods or the as a whole to the customer. Either it does not work fast enough or it does not send the right information to the right functions at the right time. The key requirements to make the organisation work as one unit are integration, communication and empowerment.
5. Process for the sake of process - If anybody ever tells you that you need to do particular steps because a) managements says so b) SOX says so c) we have always done it this way, be assured that 9 times out of 10, you have come across a non-value add process. Question Why and question it five times before blindly following such processes.

Processes exist to enable business and not to hinder it.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

World Telecommunications and Information Society Day 2011

We will be celebrating World Telecommunications and Information Society Day on 17th May 2011. At this point, let us look at the history of Telecommunications and look at some trends as to what the future portends.

That technology would tend towards obsolescence was pretty clear even in the 18th century. Soon after the semaphore towers went live, there emerged electrical telegraphy, which was over-shadowed by wireless telegraphy. All in a span of 40 years from 1792 onwards. Less than a century from this date, a wireless telephone call was demonstrated. Albeit, the scientific concept of this wireless call via modulated lightbeams was later used in fiber optic networks.

Thus the 19th century was a century of the telephone and telegraph. Of course there were doubting thomases and all these experiments were sometimes dismissed as new fangled thoughts and impractical inventions. There is an apocryphal story of President Rutherford praising the telephone as an amazing invention but doubting who would want to use one anyway!

Further work in the early part of the 20th century saw voices being transmitted from one corner of the globe to the other. There was also the curious matter of pictures being beamed into people's homes which saw the birth of the modern entertainment industry. The two wars in the first half of this century gave an impetus to communications research. Most of the technology we use today finds a seed of an idea in the military research done at this time.

From the 1940s onward we see the rise of computing power and the introduction of networking within twenty years. The latter part of the twentieth century upto the 80s sees a consolidation and growth in computing and networking. From this point on every decade has seen us taking several steps forward  in technological advancements.

The '80s belonged to the popularisation of computing power while the 90s saw widespread adoption of the the internet. While the technological heart skipped a beat at the turn of the century, fearing the apocalypse of Y2K, it quickly recovered to see the first decade of the 21st century lead to an almost endemic growth of mobile and social networking.

What next?
Now that we have moved eons beyond the initial incredulity of voices and pictures being transmitted from one place to another, and have succeeded in making the internet mobile, it does beg the question - what next?

Let us look at some of the trends we see taking hold in this second decade. The mobile workplace is definitely here to stay and e-mail has been pretty tough to dislodge so far despite the various waves of alternate communications. Digital means of doing business can still be said to be emerging and could be the next big thing. Cloud is definitely the toast of the town at the moment. History shows us that successful inventions need to catch the popular imagination to survive. History also tells us that new technology is more often than not built from innovations on top of previous technology. The Internet became widespread by using the old telephone and television networks.

Hence, I dare to predict that this decade will belong to networked business communication in pretty much the same way social networking took the first decade by storm. Organisations will become more and more virtual and we should soon see the establishment of an entire office infrastructure on the cloud. Especially as the digital generation starts entering the workforce, every bit of paper and physical transaction will be questioned for efficiency and productivity.

What would be interesting to watch is the socio-economic impact of these new developments. Would the big corporations be early movers and monopolize the virtual space or would this lead to the emergence of challenger organisations who would be much more nimble and open to such an idea? Would rural business take a lead over urban given that the economies of distance and opportunity would make it far more advantageous for them to be ravenous adapters to new technology?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The New Wave Business Process - Part III : The Elusive Business Process

Wiki defines the term 'business process' as a set of related, structured activities which lead to a service or a product being produced and delivered to customers. What this implies is that if you can define your business goals and list down the activities in various functions needed to achieve these goals, you should then be able to set a sequence to this list, which becomes your business process.

Business is definitely run 100% on process. What matters is what is the maturity level of the business process in your organization. After all even ad-hoc collaboration leads to following a process which delivers products and services. However, ad-hoc process will not be scalable or repeatable. If we want to deliver consistent reliable service to customers, then business process maturity has to be ensured.

In order to take steps forward in the right direction, we need to first realize where we are. In your organisation, if  you see great customer appreciation for individual efforts, personal interactions help save the day, and your team is motivated to ensure no problem is insurmountable in meeting deadlines, then you are in trouble as far as process maturity is concerned. These are all symptoms of an ad-hoc process organization.

What you need to do at this stage is take a hard look at the structures in your organization, study process documentation (in all likelihood - none), and embark on a study of process frameworks best suited to your business environment and industry sector. Such an entity is likely to go through organizational re-structuring, documentation of existing ad-hoc process, adoption of frameworks and trying to super-impose ad-hoc processes to standard frameworks.

In order to reach Managed processes, such an entity would be well advised to set up a central process analysis team comprising of a cross functional selection of senior managers. This forum should be empowered with top management sponsorship and review. Individual heroism should take a second seat to the goal of creating a managed process entity.

This forum should strive to build / modify the organization structure aligned to processes. This will lead to internal service units being created which so far as possible are the owners of specific deliverables within the entire process and which in turn defining TAT and SLA for each other. This would also result in providing role clarity to employees on what exactly they are supposed to deliver to the organization.

The hallmark of a managed process entity would be existence of disciplined organizational units which own and deliver specific tasks with desired quality and within specified timelines. At this stage the organization should see repeatable practices, customer appreciation for consistency and reliability of the organization as opposed to appreciation for individual heroism earlier.

By now the organization would be demonstrating process definition in every work unit. Each work unit is now stabilizing their process. It is possible to get data out of every process step to measure and improve on bottlenecks. The next step would be to standardize the processes across work units and ensure seamless interaction among various functions. Only at this stage would BPR or Six Sigma programs yield benefits for the organization. If such exercises are attempted on an immature organization, the programs will not be well appreciated and by the time we reach this stage a fatigue would have set in amongst the resoruces which will make it all the more difficult to progress beyond this stage.

Thus it is very important to calibrate the process maturity journey of the organization to avoid mis-steps and over-reaching one's goals. While we are moving processes to managed and stabilized stages, it is also important to realize the potential of automation in bringing about productivity gains. Automation will help little in ad-hoc processes and will in fact be counter productive as one goes on spending endlessly on automating new ad hoc processes continuously. Once work units agree upon standardized processes, automation can be brought in to define, perform, monitor, measure and report on processes which can be then taken up for further improvement based on observations.

These further improvements are most likely to come in the form of end to end integration projects being taken up within the organization. By this time, industry best practices would have been instituitionalized and functions will even start improvising on industry best practices. This should neither be surprising or disturbing. After all industry best practice is defined as those practices which work best for us.

Beyond this, each organization will need to find its own unique path to reach repeatable and innovating stages of process maturity. At repeatable stage the aim will be to reduce process output variances, empowered functions will take corrective action or improvement steps on their process area, since they know the larger model and are in sync with the larger picture of the organization. Organizational capability measures will be more in focus rather than function wise capabilities.

For an organization to be recognized as an innovative process organization, there should be demonstrated sponsorship of innovation projects, proactive improvement programs for achieving organizational goals. Often what is seen is that leadership teams attempt to execute projects at innovation maturity levels which may be in keeping with their thought process maturity, but fails to recognise the maturity levels of the organizations that they head. This is a major pitfall to be avoided. Leaders need to ensure that they nurture the maturity level of their organizations, rather than operate at innovating levels and assuming their organization will play catch up.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The New Wave Business Process - Part II : 'App'lied Business Theory

A conversation I was having with a senior strategist and a vendor conference which I attended this week triggered some further thought process on handling the new wave business processes. So I decided to elaborate on my initial concept in the previous blog - - about network linked business capability and online collaboration leading to commercial transactions.

Let us look at some of the changes we are seeing around us -
- Proliferation of apps
- Requirement of information
- Need to collaborate and communicate
- Remote and mobile access to apps and information for collaboration and communication

All of this points to a scenario where business operates more and more in a distributed manner and not from central locations. This also breaks down the traditional central chain of command and leads to empowerment at local levels for taking decisions and executing transactions. The challenge for leadership will be - how to ensure order in this chaos and channelize synergies across these disparate events which make for completion of a business transaction.

Working remotely is indeed supported by the emergence of technologies which support distributed collaboration. Concepts like cloud computing have matured to a level where they have business acceptance leading towards a critical mass needed to support the next stage of growth. The adoption of cloud computing opens up the business to tackle the challenges and opportunities of the future.

Now let us examine how these changes will affect the way people work. First the definition of work will undergo a change. Neither organisations will be willing to commit to fixed number of resources which is akin to sunk cost on a recurring basis, nor will resources be content to dedicate their efforts to one organisation. With that goes the concept of working hours (does it exist nowadays anyway?) as resources are supposed to perform tasks on demand. Whoever has the right skills at the time when the demand for a task to be performed comes up, gets to do the work.

What this means is that people, process and technology gets replaced with skills, capability, connectivity. Strong processes and technology support would simply be the hygiene factors which will enable this new way of working. We are getting comfortable with apps for our social requirements. Wouldn't it be great to have an app to submit your expenses? While you are on your business trip, you make your expenses through your mobile pay app and get a choice to charge it to your expenses which hits your organisations accounts payable.

Now taking this thought process to the next level - how about doing your entire business online? You no longer need concrete buildings full of people to do business. What this needs is an online infrastructure which replicates your steel and concrete structure and allows collaboration amongst your resources, partners, stakeholders, customers instantaneously. With this level of automation being built on the cloud, the organisation can hire resources online, allocate work as per skills and monitor work reports online. This concept can already be seen at work in the freelance community. If we put this in a online structure it results in a virtual organisation being created. Organisations would have administrators of such virtual departments playing the role of HODs.

When you have multiple such organisations created online and communicating with each other, you have online collaborating leading to commercial transactions. Procurement in Org A could then collaborate with Sales in Org B using an app similar to maybe Google Wave. Negotiations are conducted and recorded online resulting in issuance of a PO. This gets sent to resources in the sellers delivery organisation and the resources with the right skills and closest to the buyer get to deliver the products or services so procured.

If this concept is detailed out, it leads to huge benefits in productivity and costs. The ease of doing business also results in higher growth. Resources get benefited by getting the best value out of utilising their skills, doing what they do best.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

The New Wave Business Process

Though this post focuses on a particular industry event, I am sure the process concerns raised here resonate across other sectors as well and are just as relevant.

I was at the TM Forum (TM Forum is the world’s leading industry consortium focused on improving business effectiveness for communications Service Providers.) Regional Spotlight in Delhi the previous week. One of the participants brought up the top three priorities for business as -
- New products
- Growth
- Improving Processes

This means post-recession communications service providers are clearly expecting and looking to ride the new wave of growth. At the same time there is a cautious approach to handling this growth by re-using existing infrastructure and improving current processes.
However, this was a CIO view and I would have liked to see more business process owners from operators at this forum participating and gearing up for the changes and improvements required to handle the next wave. (TM Forum's eTOM is the common business process architecture adopted by telecom operators globally.)

Now for improving the business processes, there will be dependence on IT to deliver automation projects that support the process changes or help make existing processes more efficient. No doubt IT will play an important role in process efficiency, but can only act as a catalyst. The initiator of this exercise has to be the process owner who has to have complete clarity on the future roadmap of the organization, the challenges current practices are likely to face in the future and the changes which are required to be brought about to stay current and releavant.

Additionally, newer technologies will change the way we do business. We already have seen the changes in the way we interact with each other in the last five years. These changes have already started seeping into formal interactions and business communication. These changes will further percolate into the business transactions themselves as we see businesses recognize and adopt the power of cloud computing. I am currently conceptualizing a network linked business capability which enables businesses to collaborate online and possibly enter into binding transactions online. You could essentially run your entire business on the cloud. Just imagine the power unleashed by this concept of anytime, anywhere enabling business capability.

The kind of capabilities I am envisaging here changes the way we set up organizational structures, the way we hire and maintain our workforce, the way we interact within the organization, the way we define the tasks essential to carry on business, the way we engage with external stakeholders, in essense everything we call as 'doing business'. Businesses will have to go for a deep introspection and respect none of the currently established practices as valid in the future.

This essentially means the current ways of doing business will just not be good enough to tackle the new wave of growth which will have its own demands of quicker than before delivery, better than ever products and lower than ever costs. In essence this calls for not only looking afresh at business process re-engineering, but also changes the way we look at and perform BPR itself.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Attitude matters

There was an old ad which used to go "It's not size that matters. It's the attitude." It is as much true for organizations as it is for individuals.

This is one factor which allows you to rise above circumstances, background, hierarchies and make a mark for yourself. It has both positive and negative connotations. Keeping with the spirit of this blog we focus on the positives.

Having a positive attitude and approach means half the job is already tackled. When somebody tells you something cannot be done, just delve into the issue and bring out the real motivations for the behavior. You can easily categorise such a negative response into the following reasons -
Skill set issue - The person does not know how to approach the task and get it done. Can we provide a training or a SOP which will mitigate the negative and turn it into a 'can do' situation?
Intention - This is where attitude steps in. It can be a case of 'I do not want to do this' due to a variety of reasons. I am too senior, too junior, not the right person, why can't someone else do this. All of these can be attributed to an intention of not doing the task. You can easily identify this person does not want to give his 100% to the job.
Values and Ethics - A positive spin to the Intention aspect will be if the task being asked of you goes against the grain of your values. Again a strong attitude is required to put your foot down and point out the wrongs of doing such a task. Today in most organisations there are governance bodies which can be approached in such conflict situations.

In evaluating the above points, we touched upon a couple of important aspects. The desire or intention to serve the organisation's goals and a can do attitude which allows us to give our 100% to the job.

In whatever we do in our personal or professional lives, I have seen those people succeed who have a desire to serve the larger interests. Such people bring with themselves a sincerity of purpose and are able to percolate their values into the environment. Thing start to fall into place with such people around. With such an attitude, you win the respect, appreciation and affection of all you touch.
These people do not come to their jobs just to make a living, they are there with a vision, a purpose, a desire to achieve and leave the place in a better shape than they found it.

Here's a quote to describe the motivation behind such an attitude - " I don't know if I will succeed in this, but I know for sure I would have failed if I had not attempted it."

Another question to ask oneself is - do I give my 100% to what I set out to do? I tried my best is not good enough. If the result is not as per expectations, then somewhere that 100% was definitely missing. Another try, another approach is definitely called for. You cannot quit after having 'tried your best'. You have to keep at it, not till your boss is satisfied with the output, not till your customer is satisfied with the output, but till your inner self is satisfied with the output and you are convinced you could not have delivered better. That is called giving your 100%.

Keep in check the trait of taking each day and just getting done with it to wriggle out at the end having put in less than what satisfies you. Success is not a stroke of luck or a bolt from the blue. It is a choice which is in our hands and is carved out of the so many mundane tasks that define our character and approach and attitude. We have this choice and we exercise this choice every day for every task that we encounter. The number of right choices we make defines our attitude for success.

Another thought here is that the only attitude we can control and change is our own. We cannot lay down how people will behave or how the wind will blow. All we can decide is how we will take it and make the best out of it.

I will end this article with an oft-repeated story of three people cutting stones and on being asked as to what they were doing, one replies "I am cutting stones", the other replies "I am earning my wages" while the last one replies "I am building a temple where people will find succour". Attitude Matters.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The redundancy of hierarchies

When I joined the corporate world, I was introduced to a set hierarchy, a job description and a SOP for getting things done. All very good tools to get going and knowing what to do, when and with whom. I also found people getting bogged down only within the boundaries defined by these tools. If we fail to recognise and utilise them as the tools they are meant to be and start using them as boundaries beyond which we cannot perform, that is where mediocricity starts seeping in our performance and output.

Having worked as an independent programmer before experiencing corporate hierarchies imbued in me a spirit of entrepreneurship and ownership. With this mind-set, I always found it difficult to restrain myself to such self-made boundaries. The ground rules which I set for myself were -
- Never quit thinking for yourself 
Go through the rules and processes given to you. Each one may be right independently, but may not apply when seen in context with other circumstances.

- Do not blindly follow the letter, rather apply the spirit behind the rulesIs it right for the business? No steps can ever be made for the detriment of the business. However, many people will stubbornly apply the letter of the law in a manner it was never intended to be.

- Question what does not sound rightJust because we have been doing it for years does not mean we will keep doing it tomorrow.

- Do the right thingIf it calls for a change of procedures, however tougher it may be to accomplish, as compared to doing nothing and being on the right side of the rules, go for the change.

What hierarchies propagate is exactly the opposite. Obey orders, follow the crowd, go with the flow. All very fine for assembly line units and areas where discipline and uniformity are called for to achieve team targets. However when your goals are to achieve an empowered organisation where innovation and creativity are valued, a different approach is required.

Hierarchies advance the supposition that there are two sets of resources - thinkers and doers. In reality each level has a proportion of think time and do time to invest in order to work effectively. Depending on the role you are playing (as opposed to the level you are in the hierarchy), the ratio of think time and do time you are expected to spend can vary.

In today's socially networked offices, with informal flows of communication and getting work done gaining more ground, one can no longer depend on hierarchies and coming through 'proper channels' to achieve objectives. When rigid hierarchies are imposed and independent thought is smothered, it leads to group inertia. Committees and forums are sought to be formed to bring about the elusive consensus to move forward. Nobody is willing to move forward till 'everybody' ratifies the action as required. The responsibilities and consequences are deliberated to the minutest detail, in essence killing innovative ideas. No one is willing to define and acccept the risks involved in moving forward, thereby de-facto accepting the risks of not making the move.

Organizations are still reluctant to change the old power structures and bureaucracies brought in by traditional hierarchies.
In an environment where economic scenarios change every week, no variable is predictable or constant, decisions are needed to be made more and more at the ground level. There is no longer the comfort of getting back to the corporate office for a decision. You would have lost the opportunity in the meantime. The decision makers on the other side of the table want to deal with people who can take the decisions on the table.

It will take a few mavericks to rock the boat. There is a need for people who take nothing for granted, question everything, shake the status quo and bring in a little bit of constructive turbulence. What is needed now are not departments and hierarchies to take care of funcitons in silos.

A different approach to setting up structures is to identify the projects and tasks at hand and set up teams which are empowered to perform these tasks with complete ownership, while not losing sight of the organization's goals and objectives. This enables us to harness individual strengths, fix responsibilities for actions and move forward as a single team to achieve common purpose.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Individual and Collective Decision Making

Having examined the importance of taking ownership of decisions in our work area, let us look at some types of decision making. We will look at both individual decision making and collective decision making.

Individual Decision Making -
As individuals we take decisions all the time. There are many theories on rational and irrational decisions taken by individuals. We seem to be hard-wired towards irrational decision making. Human beings are emotional and emotions lead to irrational decision making. It is application of thought process which leads us towards rational decision making.
Remember we are not equating rational or irrational with right or wrong here. We are only examining whether an application of logic would still hold up the initial choice.
As an example think up an initial list of things you would do if you had a million dollars this instant. Don't deliberate too much. Now go over this list once more thinking over the returns each decision would have given you in a year. Get the point?

The types of decisions an individual takes can be categorised by the area of influence.
I for I
These are decisions that individuals take which affect only themselves. These decisions and actions are mostly taken to satisfy basic needs in Maslow's hierarchy.

I for YOU
This type of decision mostly has the characteristic of a person in a position of authority taking a decision for or regarding someone under his authority. e.g. a Parent choosing a school for his ward, Teacher assigning a reading assignment to student, Supervisor allocating work.

I for US
Decision taken by one individual and conveyed to another but impacting both of them. Like the above category this could be taken by someone in authority as a leadership position often facilitates the authority to take such a decision. Maslow's metaneeds are mostly likely to be encountered at this level.
A deviation from the top-bottom approach could be seen here by the subordinate deciding to dispute or refuse the I for YOU decision, which then transforms it into a I for US discussion.

I for THEM
A detached level of decision making, most likely to see rational thought process applied. This level of decision making can be made only if the individual is in a position of absolute trust or absolute authority. This could be a judge deciding a case, the finance minister deciding taxes to be applied, a consultant deciding the strategy for his client.

Collective Decision Making -
Collective decision making is not the sum total of all individual decisions. This is all about influencing a group of people to agree on a particular action. Preferably we get a larger group of people that agrees on the action than the number of people who disagrees. In the absence of which we get a disruption.

Collective decision making is not necessarily more rational than individual decision making. Nor does it tend to be right more times than wrong as compared to individual decision making. Rather the opposite usually applies. Think of the politicians we choose to elect as a people.

It is often quite easy for assertive individuals to get groups of people to agree on their particular perspective. Groups tend to agree quicker when they see their choices already made for them, and the preferred path is perceived to have more pros than cons. This kind of influencing often avoids brainstorming, collection of views or thorough deliberation of options. So beware when you see the next presentation with three choices on what you should do. It only means that ten other choices have not yet been thought of.

The areas where we are most likely to be asked to get collective decisions made are in the realm of US for US. The participants in such a collective decision making process would most likely be the stakeholders likely to be impacted.
Some factors that make a joint decision difficult to arrive at are -
  • Equally strong opposing forces in the group
  • Conflicting interest of different stakeholders
  • Unwillingness to yield ground to accomodate other interests
  • Expression of emotions
  • Individual prejudices and bias
Of course all the factors mentioned in the previous post about not taking ownership apply to the group as much as the individual.

Being in the driver's seat
Having known all these facts, how do we drive decisions in group environments that we encounter at work?

Clarify your intention and objective
As long as your goal is seen to be in the interest of the larger community, the greater the chances of swinging the decision in your favor.

Increase your area of influence
The more you collaborate and network, the more likely that the group which is responsible for making the decision is aware of your intentions.

Pay attention to the presentation - it matters
Focus on the positive message and drive home the advantage of taking the decision rather than not taking the decision. Try this - In a project with 90% probability of attaining objectives, talk to one group about the 90% success rate and talk to another group about the 10% failure rate. Guess which group is likely to vote in favor?

Debate is better than agreement
It does not help take better decisions by being aggressive and suppressing dissent. Assertive and open debate is far better than mute acceptance of actions.

Individual or Collective?
While considering whether to promote group decisions or individual decisions, the factors to evaluate would be the impact area of the action. If it is going to affect a cross section of people then it is better to achieve consensus to avoid alienation.

Collective decision making can lead to advantages of brainstorming, fresh ideas, consideration of conflicting views, evaluating all options, identifying risks and bringing diverse skills to the table but it can as easily disintegrate into conflicts, analysis paralysis, risk-aversion, safe and tried path thinking, killing innovation.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Taking Ownership and Responsibility

On the first day into my first job as a CA newly selected into a MNC, I was asked to have a preliminary chat with the HOD and made to sit in a waiting area the whole day (while they figured out what to do with me, I guess). I used the time to talk up with a few people working there and got an understanding of what that department does. As I was also doing a course in system design at that time, I applied my newly learned skills to draw up a DFD for the department (with a lot of assumptions - it was my first day after all) and waited for the HOD to be free, well after office hours. When I finally got a chance to see him, we were discussing my work for the day well into the night. The next day, I was made the liaison between this function and IT and given the responsibility of delivering these IT functionalities to meet the needs of the function. Within six months, I had independent charge of a section along with its Trial Balance under my ownership.

Nobody made these decisions for me to decide what I should do with my time. When you take your decisions on what to do in your immediate area of work, it facilitates the organisation to decide what to do with your skills and talents.

Now, look around in your environment and answer the question - Who takes the decisions around here? Especially on issues pertaining to the work area in your KRA. If the answer is anybody other than yourself, prepare yourself for a lifetime of junior management roles.

Often times there is a mistaken belief people hold that somebody else is responsible for running this company, (why not extend it to running this country, this household, this community, this life and so on). Ultimately it is the people who make the company what it is and are responsible for the environment, culture, ethics, values that exist. If you work with the intention of simply following what is brought in front of you in terms of rules and processes, that's what you will remain - a follower. What is needed is a mindset that is constantly exploring and questioning.

I am by no means suggesting being disruptive and refusing to follow rules. Follow the process by all means to achieve the organisation's goal, but question first and foremost if it is the right thing to do, if it is the most efficient way to do it and whether there does not exist a better way of achieving the same result. If we keep on doing what we did yesterday, there would be no growth, right?

Now that we have established we are the owner of the environment around us, we can proceed to explore how to ensure we remain in charge of making the decisions around this environment. Because along with ownership comes responsibility. The responsibility to make decisions.

Let us differentiate which decisions are in our power to make and which are out of bounds for us. There is certain authority which is handed down in top-bottom approach, which is inviolable. Going beyond this authority and taking a decision is not legal in most cases. But these are not the kind of decisions we are talking about here.
We are talking about decisions in the area of work entrusted to us. I have seen far too many examples of people taking every step in their daily work only after a confirmation of their higher-ups. Even where it is not warranted and represents an impingement on the time and efforts of their supervisor and a loss of productive time for their organisation.

There are instances where common sense and not your supervisor should give you the answer on what to do with the task in front of you. What prevents people from taking this path is -
- Fear of going wrong
- Lack of skills
- Lack of initiative
- Not seeing the big picture
- Not able to visualize what lies ahead
- Authoritative bosses
- Laziness, shirking work, procrastination
- Feeling that things will take care of themselves

Take your pick. If you feel I have left out some reasons why you don't take decisions, leave a comment below and I will add it to this list. :)

Seriously, these are the obstacles to nothing but your own growth. Nothing and no one will be affected by your not taking decisions as much as yourself. Because the last point in the list is actually true. Things will indeed take care of themselves. If you do not act, someone else will grab the initiative. But it will be his/her initiative and not yours. And it was your opportunity and not his/hers in the first place.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


Over the past twenty years, I have worked in the petrochemical, software and telecom industries.

I started my career writing software. I found a pharma company who was in need of a desktop software which could run their billing, accounting and inventory management. No the word ERP was not invented back then.
This was in the days of Clipper and dBase. So I set about single handedly churning out code and in 50 days delivered the system to the client.
After this there were a few tid-bits of programming work which I managed to get. But I quickly saw this was not going to be my main bread-earner. Especially since in those days I was simultaneously studying for my CA degree.

So after clearing CA, my first job was handling the capitalization of a petrochemical unit in India's largest private sector company. This is where I saw that to be successful in your career, you don't just have to be an expert in your field of study. You have to be an expert in business dynamics. You have to grasp the basics of the industry domain. So I not only balanced the books in this position, but started on a journey of learning all about heavy machinery, furnace temperatures, cooling towers, construction, civil engineering, chemical formulae and most importantly the concept of backward integration and value add.

This job also gave me my first taste of international exposure and got me globe trotting. I spent about a year in King Henry's Reach in London, UK. After this I spent a gruelling 18 months on the site of the petroleum refinery coming up in Jamnagar, India.

The first of the topics I will be writing about in my later posts will be - Taking Responsibility. Watch out this space for future notes.

By this time I had started getting into learning yield management though my job remained capitalization of the refinery units. I had also decided I wanted to go back to my first passion - software solutions. This was easier said than done. the year was 2001 and the software industry was in the grips of a bubble which had just burst. Joining an ISP in that time I found myself doing what I loved best, but I also realized it was necessary to again be aware of the business domain more than anything else. Having taken a leap of faith, going from a stable and growing petrochemical sector, I felt like I had stepped off a conveyer belt onto an escalator going down fast. What kept me going was this is the sector I felt at ease in. So I set myself off on another learning expedition. This time it was the network layers, communication protocols, billing software, emerging cutting edge technologies, (cutting edge at that point of time in history; today's obsolete - another lesson learnt). When I felt confident enough in this field, I used the time on my hands to sit for an exam for CISA. Cleared that with flying colours securing the first rank in India and fourth rank in the world.
Soon after clearing CISA, I joined a telecom systems integrator firm. now I was getting closer to my goal of working again on creating software solutions.

I will discuss my five years in the Indian software industry as part of a separate topic.

Having spent a good amount of time in telecom, learning the ropes and consulting operators on their OSS/BSS roadmaps, I felt it was the time to take a plunge back into telecom operations. Having been on the consulting side, I wanted to get my hands dirty on the actual implementation and see if the roadmaps I had designed actually led to the benefits I had planned for the clients. Another urge was to get into the thick of things and find out what challenges are faced when you are actually on the field, as opposed to being in the coach's box.

And what an experience that has turned out to be. It has given me amazing insights into the areas which I earlier thought I had already mastered. Truly there is something new to learn everyday.

That leads me to most of the topics I plan to write on - Challenges of Change Management, The Elusive Business Process, Success through Structure.

So that's so far as introductions go. On to the promised topics from next week onwards.