Differentiating R&D vs Innovation – A Conceptual Framework

December 24, 2010

While Research & Development (R&D) and Innovation has always been at the core of success for any organization since ages – until some time back it has been somehow considered like an ‘assumed’ thing. However in the recent years – as competition for almost all businesses heats up and hence the immediate need to start differentiating becomes more acute – the hue and cry about R&D and/or Innovation about/within any organization has taken a new proportion. In most of the organizations I have been working with or dealt with – I see that the Leaders are constantly thinking and talking about driving and pushing R&D/Innovation within the organization; the Mid-Management are required to think about implementing and extracting value through R&D/Innovation; and the Rank-and-File individuals are responsible for execution. Yet, one of a common challenge I have seen in almost all these organizations is across the board lack of clear definition of what R&D and Innovation means and how it differentiates from each other. Needless to say even I have had my share of confusions and misunderstandings – and have often been guilty of using/understanding these terms in an incorrect fashion.

I recently came across one of the key finding from Boston Consulting Organization Survey about measuring Innovation (PDF link – a year old survey) – that per the feedback from the Executives only 32% of organizations were satisfied with their own Innovation results. The same survey also says that this percentage is in fact falling over the years. While I do take such surveys with a pinch of salt – I think that these satisfaction numbers are telling. Having seen in many organizations, I somehow think that this lack of proper understanding/definition of R&D/Innovation could be one of a big contributor to such poor measurements.

Depending on where one reads and whom they talk to – there are different opinions and perceptions about what R&D and/or Innovation means. IMO, none of them are completely correct or wrong. The opinions about them are formed based on what works for any particular organization. For my own sake, in order to have a clear guidance on how I think and perceive R&D and/or Innovation – I have created a conceptual framework in my mind about how I perceive both these activities. For the sake of discussion in this blog – let us refer to this framework as my own “Manish Rathi’s R&D/Innovation Framework”  or MRRDIF in short.

While conceptualizing MRRDIF – my guiding thoughts were driven from what I had read on Wikipedia about Invention and Innovation -

“R&D is about taking cash and converting it into Inventions; Innovation is about taking these Inventions and converting it into cash”.

Per me, the picture below captures the steps and work-flow which forms the core essence of  MRRDIF. As it can be seen, the process is about first creating Inventions through the approach of R&D after accumulating/assessing multiple types of inputs. Second is to convert these Inventions into specific Value for the organization – which IMO should be measurable in financial terms – using the approach of Innovation. The key to remember in this is that Invention by itself does not have any Value.

R&D Vs. Innovation

R&D vs. Innovation - Conceptual Framework (click on the picture for enlarged view)

An important point to remember in my MRRDIF approach is that I do not consider Innovation as an outcome. For me Innovation is simply a form of approach/process which converts Invention into tangible and measurable Value. In simplistic terms – generated Value is the outcome!

A bit more about the key blocks in this MRRDIF approach -

  • Organization Mission and Vision = As a thumb rule – I have always felt that the R&D/Innovation strategy in modern day organizations should be guided by what the core Organization’s Vision/Mission is. I do realize that this point is debatable and there are several examples of successful Inventions/Innovations which somehow were not in line with what the core initial organization’s mission/vision was. However, more often than not, such cases are very very few. Aligning the R&D/Innovation process with the organization’s mission/vision just makes it easy to manage and get better buy-in/acceptability from a long-term perspective.
  • Market Inputs = Traditionally, taking the market inputs has always been an after-thought and has possibly worked for solo inventors in the past such as Thomas Edison or the Wright Brothers. However, in an organization setting requiring collaborative effort for reaching to an Invention – the investments and risks are higher. In today’s world an Invention has to conjoin itself to a valid and unfulfilled market pain point. IMHO, an Invention without the validation based on market inputs can possibly give the organization only a sense of intellectual safety – but that may not translate into financial rewards.
  • Technology/Services Inputs = While this point is self-explanatory – the key in this to assess and validate both internal and external dependencies. For example – I am sure Thomas Edison had a dependency on electricity (external dependency) when he invented the light bulb.
  • Invention = Invention is typically considered to be an embodiment of something new. While the picture above may imply that it takes some effort to convert an Invention into something of value – there are several occasions where this effort is minimalistic. Again such scenarios are typically on the lower side.
  • Execution = This is the block where MRRDIF differs substantially from what has been the typical perceptions of what Innovation means. For me, Execution here is about gaining the acceptance in society, profitability, and market performance expectations of the Invention. This is about the process of deriving Value associated with an Invention.
  • Value = As alluded to above – Value in any measurable form is the ultimate pinnacle of the whole R&D and Innovation process which has been described above. This is the stage where the Invention/Idea has been successfully exploited resulting in tangible outcome for the organization and resulting in some form of commercial returns.

The significance of the ‘$’ signs and its associated colors (red and green) besides the ‘R&D‘ and ‘Innovation‘ process blocks is along the lines of what the Wikipedia statement meant above. R&D is going to consume cash (red) and Innovation is about generating cash (green). The key is keep the ‘red‘ $ smaller than the ‘green‘ $!

As I conclude on this blog post – I would like to repeat that MRRDIF is more tuned towards helping in trying to formalize a definition of R&D and/or Innovation. Like it has to me till-date, my hope is that this framework would help in taking steps towards setting up a measurable R&D and Innovation program.

Any thoughts/comments are welcome.

Mobile Phone Subscriber base in India – Increasing or Decreasing?

December 21, 2010

LiveMint – one of the leading business newspaper in India carried an editorial article on December 10, 2010 titled – “Dialling the Wrong Numbers” which concluded or implied that India’s Cell Phone subscriber base may be on decline. Their inference on this seem to have been drawn from the recent press release from Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) on Telecom Subscriber Data (PDF link). LiveMint writes and I quote the following paragraph from the article -

According to Visitor Location Register data published by TRAI, only 70% of mobile phone connections were active at the end of September; i.e. out of 688 million subscribers, only 482 million were live on 30 September (2010).

When I read this – I instinctively felt that something was not right with this reporting from LiveMint. A drop of 30% decline in active subscribers (and that too within a month) should have started fire alarm bells ringing in the Mobile Service Providers – especially considering that they are currently getting challenged from the perspective of extracting more $/subscriber. So I took upon myself to decipher the data from the TRAI press release. My suspicions of misleading reporting from LiveMint came to be true.

Per the TRAI press release the news in terms of count of subscriber base seems to be quite contrary. The wireless subscriber base in India  increased by the routine 2.39%. India at the end of November 2010 had 688M wireless subscribers. The number 482M which LiveMint quotes is about Visitor Location Register (VLR) – this number is about tracking the user in a particular coverage area. This however is not about whether the subscriber is permanently active or not. (I have sent an email to the Editors of LiveMint for the clarification. Hopefully they will respond to that)

While we are on this topic – I just feel that the way TRAI calculates the tele-density seems to be very misleading. At the end of September 2010, the wireless tele-density in India seemed to be at 61%. For me this means that for 100 individuals, 61 of them would have access to wireless device. This just seems to be incorrect. Indians have a very unique habit of carrying multiple cell phones and with the advent dual/multiple SIM handsets – the whole definition of tele-density from a wireless perspective does not make any sense to me. (The same LiveMint article linked above mentioned that a report from KPMG indicates that 40% of all new cell phones sold in India would be Dual-SIM card phones. Not too sure if this is a correct number. Did not see a validation of the same anywhere else)

Thoughts and/or comments are welcome.

India Healthcare – McKinsey Report on Indian Pharmaceutical Market

December 20, 2010

For those who are following Indian Healthcare Market with great interest – the recent McKinsey Report & Predictions on Indian Pharmaceutical Market would be of interest to you.  I tried looking at this report at the McKinsey India web site but did not find it there. However, here is an alternate location from where you can download the PDF Version of the same report titled “India Pharma 2020 – Propelling Access and Acceptance, Realizing True Potential”. LiveMint also did a great job in summarizing this report in their daily edition (the graphics from LiveMint are here –  PDF – 1, PDF – 2, and PDF – 3).

For me the following were the quick takeaways from this report -

  • Over the last 5 years, the Indian Government spending on Healthcare has increased by a healthy 20% ($6.7 Billion to $11.7 Billion)
  • Coronary Heart Diseases and Diabetics are the two prominent disease areas to see an increase of about 30-40% in the next decade.
  • The data shows a steep rise in the number of people covered by healthcare insurance in the last 5 years (and is targeted to cover 45% of the population by 2020) – however important thing to note is that this steep rise is due to government-sponsored insurance coverage for below poverty-line population.
  • Selling margins in India are lower compared with other emerging markets (~20-25%)

[Note - Send me an email if you have problems accessing the PDFs linked above. I have these PDFs locally stored with me.]

Pros and Cons of the Traditional Marketing Tools in Selling Technology Products and Services

October 28, 2010

Over the last many years, I have had the opportunity to play a close role in defining and planning the Strategy and Marketing of multiple products and offerings in my current organization. Sometimes indirectly and very recently more directly. The key successful ones amongst them were for GlobalLogic Velocity (Product Engineering Platform which won the Infoworld Top 100 Innovation Award), Version 1.0 Offering (End-to-End Idea to Launch Services Offering for Early Stage Products), and very recently with the Cloud Computing and Enterprise Mobility offerings within the Consumer and Enterprise (C&E) Business Unit. In addition to these direct ones, I have till-date assisted more than half-dozen early stage product companies with their Launch Strategy and Marketing.

For many who know me personally or through my blog – would know that I come from a technology/engineering background. So it was not only enriching to understand, learn, and implement various Strategy and Marketing activities but also has given me a chance to think about the all the established practices in Strategy and Marketing from a completely different/new angle. So in some sense the Engineering/Analytical mindset in me did affect my thinking in my new role. And considering that I work for a Technology R&D Services organization certainly made me think more analytically.

When I started in this Marketing role – a large chunk of marketing strategy was (it is still a big part of our strategy) driven using more of the traditional marketing tools which typically were very content driven. Be it using the collateral artifacts (case studies, brochures, white papers, etc.), web sites, email campaigns, webinars, etc. Over the years the sophistication and quality of such marketing tools has certainly improved a lot and I have seen it able to hit and target and reach more and more varied customer base. However, the effectiveness from the perspective of sales converts of this Content-Driven strategy leaves a lot to desire. Here are some of my thoughts on the effectiveness of many of such existing marketing tools -

Case Studies -

Case Studies - Tool for creating perception

Case Studies - Tool for Creating Perception (Note: Perception is Reality!)

Case Studies are the marketing collateral that tells the stories of other customer’s beneficial experiences with the product or service offering. Case Studies as a Marketing Strategy has been age-old; sellers and buyers are well-aware of this concept; and is considered to be a no-brainer to be implemented if there are enough evidences of successful usage of the product/services being marketed.

From an ROI perspective, however I have always questioned the marketing value of case studies. Here are my reasons why -

  • Regardless of how one writes it – it is very difficult for the reader to draw/conclude definite cause-effect conclusions from a case study. And this defeats the whole purpose of writing the case study.
  • Biases – Perceive and writing down beneficial experiences of the customers from a delivery side is always filled in with biases.
  • Eternal Truth – From a buyers perspective – the needs for every buyer are different. What has worked for another organization may not work for them. It is typically very hard to generalize from a single case.
  • Lastly, if standards and best practices associated with writing a case study are not well implemented in an organization it sucks up a lot of time and effort to create them while the returns on such efforts are always questionable.

For me the real challenge in case studies is not in its creation – but in spending enormous number of hours in trying to determine that one golden standard which is most applicable to the product/services. After so many years, I have come to the conclusion that no such golden standard exists for creating Case Studies!

According to me, the strategy around Case Studies should be more directed towards creating a perception around the product/services. Expecting that it would help in influencing a buyer’s decision would be far-fetched in terms of expectations, IMHO. Few of my colleagues have argued that creating a good perception and influencing a decision is one and the same thing. However, any good Marketeer would say – good perception only creates an environment to buy – however decision to buy is based on many other factors. With this in mind, I strongly believe that it is not the number of case studies we have in our repository which matters – but it is about whether those case studies are helping in creating the perception around the product/services or not. I have seen many organizations unfortunately fail to think about it in this way.

Brochures -

To Inform - Core purpose of Brochures

To Inform - Core purpose of Brochures

Especially in the technology sales world, I personally find this particular marketing strategy i.e. creating brochure to be the least effective one. Historically brochures typically seem to have a flashy or cutesy embodiment associated with it – and this typically does not go well technology-oriented products and services. Second – Brochures  typically are a print-based strategy and not associated with the digital world. This might be the reason why I feel this way about Brochures considering that this is the most commonly used thing which we all see around us today – especially in the Consumer world.

As a rule of thumb – brochures in marketing is used to let your customers know about your offerings. However, considering the much better effectiveness of online medium in technology world to let others know about your products/services –  brochures have a very limited applicability in the technology world.

White Papers -

First, my definition of what White Papers means is based on how Michael Stelzner, author of the book “Writing White Papers: How to Capture Readers and Keep Them Engaged” describes it -

The term white paper is an offshoot of the term white book, which is an official publication of a national government. A famous white paper example is the Winston Churchill White Paper of 1922, which addressed political conflict in Palestine.

A white paper typically argues a specific position or solution to a problem. Although white paper take their roots in governmental policy, they have become a common tool used to introduce technology innovations and products. A typical search engine query on “white paper” will return millions of results, with many focused on technology-related issues.

White Papers - Tool for Lead Generation

White Papers - Tool for Lead Generation

In the Technology world, White Paper has been an age-old popular marketing strategy. In my experience, I have seen White Papers – if implemented and delivered properly – as an effective tool for Lead Generation. But beyond the purpose of Lead Generation, I have always felt that the effectiveness of White Papers is very limited based on how and where it is used. The second challenge I see in White Papers is in how organizations confuse them with Articles or Brochures. Important thing to keep in mind is that White Papers is kind of a hybrid between both. Articles are typically based on informative content whereas Brochures are more persuasive.

Web Sites -

Web Sites - Facilitates Push or Pull Marketing

Web Sites - Facilitates Push or Pull Marketing

As much as there is an inherent desire from any Marketing professional to use push mechanisms of reaching out to their potential customers – pull still remains more prominent than the push in terms of engaging with the customer. Towards this Web Sites – from many other purposes it also serves – remains and will continue to remain a prominent tool in the Marketeer’s hands.

In my personal opinion – not many companies still have completely cracked the mystery of how to use Web Sites effectively as part of their marketing strategy. One of the biggest challenge, IMO, is the reducing attention span of the readers and the increasing number of choices they have. (Jakob Nielsen’s article – “How Users Read on the Web?” is a good read to understand the challenges facing Web Sites)

Webinars -

One to Many Outreach

Webinars - One to Many Outreach

Compared to the above tools – Webinars (Web + Seminar) is relatively newer marketing tool which has come into prominence in the recent 5-6 years. Once again a powerful tool and with an increasing ease from a technology perspective it is starting to become easier to implement it too – but the jury on this one too is still out on how best to use this mechanism to reap the maximum power to reach out to the potential customers. In some sense – the current challenge is once again to attract the attention of the target customer to the webinars.

IMO, the key thing for successful webinars – topic, presentation style, and the follow-ups. There is enough science out there to help on all these three and can be a topic for another thread itself.

Once again, this blog is a dump of my conclusions about these tools typically used in marketing drawn from my experience and observations. I would love to hear experiences from others too.

Time Bomb of Longer Lives & Magic by Numbers

October 20, 2010

Few very interesting and thought-provoking articles appeared in New York Times over the last few days

The Financial Time Bomb of Longer Lives -

Talks about the good and bad news. The good news is that “we are all living longer and healthier lives than ever before” and then comes the bad news “at this rate we also cannot afford to live so long!”.

Source of this article as been the Global Aging report from Standard and Poor’s (S&P) titled – “Global Aging 2010: An Irreversible Truth

Few thought provoking points from this article -

  • For the first time in human history, people aged 65 and over are about to outnumber children under 5.
  • The average life expectancy of human beings around the world has nearly doubled since the start of the Nineteenth century (around 47 in 1900 to about 80-82 in 2010)
  • However, in the same period the retirement age across the globe has merely increased from about 58 to about 62-63 years.
  • As the article says – no other force is likely to shape the future of national economic health, public finances, and policymaking as the irreversible rate at which the world’s population is aging.

On the side note – the way NY Times reported this concept of imbalance in age group across the world in a pictorial format is commendable. I am linking it to the same below.

 

The Financial Time Bomb of Longer Lives

The Financial Time Bomb of Longer Lives (NY Times)

 

Magic by Numbers -

Daniel Gilbert, Professor of Psychology at Harvard describes nicely how certain numbers (he calls them as the magic numbers) don’t just dominate our thoughts and dictates our words; but also drive our most important decisions.

For example -

  • Weekly or the 10 day medicine prescription dose given by the doctors are most of the times not driven by any scientific or medical evidence – but more from the psychology around the comfortableness around certain numbers.
  • Stock prices typically tended to be clustered around numbers around 5 or 0.
  • Sound of how the numbers sound to the ear can influence our decisions many a times.

Venture Capital’s Disconnect with Clean Tech

October 19, 2010

CleanTech Investments

Many entrepreneurs today are focusing on startups associated with CleanTech/Environment. For these entrepreneurs – the following article and review done by Joseph Lassiter, Professor of Management Practice at Harvard Business School, titled -“Venture Capital’s Disconnect with Clean Tech” would be a worthwhile read.

Interestingly, we at GlobalLogic had similar fears on the points raised by Professor Lassiter last year as we were in process of defining our technology services offering. This article certainly does a great job in articulating such fears.

Few key highlights which entrepreneurs trying to focus in this area should take away from this article -

  • Be ready to face and live through the ‘valley of death‘ – the painstaking stage between researching and developing a product and going to the market.
  • Unlike their cousin startups in the area of IT, Software/Internet and Telecom/Communication space, startups in CleanTech typically have a catch-22 challenge – they cannot prove their ability to scale without actually scaling. An absolute must for modern day VCs to be excited about a business.
  • Huge amount of dependency of the CleanTech ideas on the Public Policy. Interests in it tends to change from one political administration to another.
  • Extremely low VC investments (average ratio of one investment for every 100 ideas)

Personally, as mentioned above I had my inhibitions about entrepreneurship in the area of CleanTech – however it would also be of interest to me to hear (possibly from Professor Lassiter himself) as to how the VCs should try to structure their investments in such ideas/companies. In our internal study about a year back – we had seen that the same investors who were making investments in Consumer/Technology/Healthcare related ideas were also making investments in CleanTech. Just felt that this was a odd combination to have in a portfolio considering the differences in mindset required towards such investments.

Kickstarting Organization’s Centers of Excellence (CoE) Strategy – Part I

October 19, 2010

[This is the first in a series of blogs which I am writing to capture some of my thoughts and associated work which went through in providing my expertise around streamlining my current Organization's Centers of Excellence (CoE) Strategy. The content in these blog posts are my views/observations/thoughts; and may or may not reflect the views or implementation strategy of my past or current employers]

Kickstarting CoE Strategy

Unless you are working for a  IBM or a SAP or GE or Keizer – who have done and dusted their organization’s Center of Excellence (CoE) Strategy – chances are that you are possibly working for an organization which fervently supports the CoE idea; have had several flings in defining and rolling out it out operationally; and yet find the strategy of CoE still sputtering to give them the desired results. I have had a chance to work for few of the organizations like that, including my current one. Over the last few years, I have been part of a team responsible to rekindle this CoE efforts within the organization. This (and the next few ones on this topic) is a summary of my thoughts/learnings about how to run a CoE within the organization.

Before I start jotting down my thoughts – it is important to understand what drives organizations towards CoEs. First, considering the published success of many bigger Fortune 100 organizations of using CoEs to manage complex organizational changes has encouraged many other organization to see if they can replicate the same success. Second, today’s business issues requires a more collaboratively determined solutions. Here again, the concept of CoEs is becoming an important strategic tool for managing such complex issues.

Step 0 – Understand what Center of Excellence (CoE) means?

Notice that I have given this step a count of 0. In order to build a robust CoE framework within an organization the need for understanding what CoE means to the organization is very important. I have sat across important members of the organizations and have heard incoherent answers from many of them about CoE means. They could answer what HR does in the organization; but could not do the same for CoE. Here are some of answers which I have heard about what CoE means from the important stakeholders in the organization. To which I have typically followed up with a question to test their answers.

  • “CoE is a group which builds expertise in a technology or domain or process in a Organization.” – How is this different from what Training Group does?
  • “CoE is a group which helps Sales in selling to the prospects” – Then is this the pre-sales group or the advisory group as many companies typically have?
  • “CoE is a group which looks at newer/future expertise over the horizon” – Why is there a need to do that? (the answer here would again point to the first two points. Hence I did not like this answer)
  • “CoE is the group which would have all answers or could get the answer” – Really?
  • “CoE is a group of like-minded people with common expertise/interests working together or CoE is a group which gives our smart people something exciting to work upon so that they stick with us.” – For this my follow-up question would typically get replaced by a silence. This silence is then followed by the question – Do you have a better answer than this?

Needless to say Center of Excellence is about many of the things above collectively and many more.  But the important part here is to go through such responses to understand and bring together a set of common assumptions and purposes associated with CoEs. Do not try to search for a perfect definition for CoE used in the industry. It is hard to find one. However, from the above Q&A types, try to create one for your organization.

Step 1 – Create a Mission/Charter for the CoEs. The Do’s and Don’ts!

Typically CoEs are created as an horizontal group within the organization which means it needs to serve a multi-departmental purpose. In my experience, creating the right mission/charter for CoEs in a multi-department organization is one of the biggest challenge considering that each departments has a different way to deliver to their goals. Also the key is not to have the charter of the CoEs to be very abstract. For example – charter such as “helping to drive products faster to the market” can be too broad.

Here are some of the standard charters which I have seen being used for the CoE along with my opinions on the same.

Charter My thoughts
Establish and drive successful deployment of best practices (standards, procedures, governance, etc.) supporting … Very operational charter
Provide thought leadership in the company in the area of … Too abstract; needs to drill down to next level
Serve as the single point of contact for .. Seriously, this cannot be the charter!
Responsible for Knowledge Management and Continuous Improvements for .. Good, but charter has to be bigger
Drive training, mentoring, and consulting for .. Good, but charter has to be bigger
Manage complex change initiatives within the organization … Good
Help organization to transform information and knowledge about a utility/emerging trends/technology/best practices to a competitive asset. I like this one

While the charter/focus of CoEs may change from organization to organization – IMO, the best charter which I personally like about CoEs is the following -

Centers of Excellence (CoE) exist to bring about an enterprise focus to anything which seems to be important for the business – from the perspective of data integration, marketing and sales, communication, project management, enterprise architecture, business and IT optimization, and enterprise-wide access to information.

In the next part in this series, I will talk about areas where CoE creation makes sense and where it does not; how to measure CoEs; and how to drive multiple Center of Excellences in the Organization.

In the meanwhile, I look forward to hearing your experiences in the area of CoE along with thoughts and comments about this particular post.

The Economics of Building and Selling iPhone Apps

October 15, 2010

About a month back I came across this interesting blog post by Tomi T. Ahonen  which talks about what is the economics of building and selling iPhone Apps? In other words is this a profitable business?

iPhone Economics

iPhone Economics

The title of the blog certainly sounds to be quite depressing to the millions of iPhone App Developers who are are looking at the App Store in the same way as the California Gold Rush – Full Analysis of iPhone Economics – it is bad news. And then it gets worse. And it also got a review on NY Times – Is Investing in iPhone App Development ‘Fool’s Errand’?

Personally – while I am not sure what is the data source which the author has used – but my gut feeling based on various other readings is that he might be about right on his analysis.

For your convenience, I am summarizing some of my takeaway/summary from the two articles –

  • Increasing number of App Stores – Similar to iPhone App Store there are possibly about 30 new app store in process of getting launched in the mobile industry. IMO, an impending ‘nightmare’ for the content/app providers (their chances of recovering costs of app development will significantly reduce from the current state); but possibly here is where an opportunity for software service providers like GlobalLogic lie.
  • Downloads are increasing; Revenue is not! – On iPhone AppStore – even though the number of downloads have increased more than 100% year-after-year; the average revenue per app download seems to reducing every six months. (decline of about 4-5% per year)
  • Free is good!- Duh, you say! Sure, but look at it from numbers perspective. Per various studies – the average iPhone App cost is around $1.95. Average revenue per app download is around $0.24. Needless to say the traffic of download is more towards free apps. What this means is that downloads is not translating into revenues. (in Sept 2009, Yankee Group surveyed actual iPhone App users and found 18% of their apps they had were paid, 82% were free)
  • Norms around app pricing seems to be setting in – For consumer-oriented apps – the thumb-rule of best bet of pricing an app is between $0.99 – $3.83
  • Expected Revenue/device (not App) – Considering the number of iPhones sold over the last two years and based on total cumulative app revenues – each device generates almost $14 of app revenues per year or nearly $28 over the 2 year period.
  • How much does the average App Developer pocket over two years? – You might have heard of some App Developer hitting a jackpot. But how much does a typical App Developer expect? By rough guesstimates – an ‘average’ typical paid iPhone app for its 2 years of existence on store would have earned about  $1948. Apple typically keeps 30% of the revenues. So from this an average app developer would have earned about $1363 over 2 years ($682/year). (keep in mind though that there is a long tail here)
  • Average Cost of Developing an iPhone App – Two surveys have reported that most apps cost anywhere between $20-$50K to develop. (an update typically cost around $10K) (Mobile web site development costs on WAP or Web is about $3K according to Internet Retailer, on May 1, 2010)
  • When does it break even then? – Considering the above two points – the author says that it would take about 51 yrs to break-even (take this with a pinch of salt)
  • Is iPhone a big market? – Does not seems like. Worldwide there are 80 million iPhone compatible devices today in use. That seems like a big number. Except, that compared to just the installed base of smartphones at the end of 2009, it is 13%
  • iPhone vs Mobile Web Development – This is always a contentious point. Compared to iPhone App Development vs. Mobile Web App Development – development costs for iPhone are 10 times bigger, but the audience reach is 50 times worse

Happy Analyzing…

Weekly retrospectives and my two cents! [Feb 14 - Feb 20]

February 22, 2010

[Series which captures my thoughts/2 cents on the weekly take on the list of events/news/observations with some satire thrown in. Previous week's retrospectives can be found here. Look forward to hearing your feedback.]

Sunday, February 14’th -

  • Politicians may not like this new research finding – Next time politicians feel good when they see their fan-following, it may not be that much because of their charisma. Whether individual’s are politically a Left’ist or a Right’ist; a Conservative or a Liberal; Democrat or a Republic; Congress or BJP sider – the new research from University of Nebraska-Lincoln says that it might have less to do with which party has the best agenda but more to do with the wiring of the individual’s brain.
  • Way to go.. Barbie!!! – And Information Technology (IT) people would soon have something to feel good and cheer about. After appearing in more than 125 career lines – Barbie is now donning the role of Computer Engineer. Her costume and accessories (which includes a t-shirt with binary codes, laptop, smartphone, bluetooth, etc.) has been specially designed by Society of Women Engineers and the National Academy of Engineering.

Monday, February 15’th -

  • Even Waste Management Inc. could not handle this particular trashWaste Management Inc. – leading provider of comprehensive trash and waste management services –  is seeking $500M as damages from SAP for failing to implement the ERP project for them. Waste Management is claiming that the software which SAP had implemented was the worst form of ‘waste‘ they had ever seen in all their years of existence and the entire collective brain power in the organization could not come up with ideas to how to ‘manage’ such a ‘waste’!
  • Mathematically proven – “Enemy’s enemy is my friend” – Well, we all had heard about this enemy’s enemy hypothesis; probably believed in it; and some of us may have experimented with it too. But now Steven Strogatz, Professor of Applied Mathematics at Cornell University has mathematically proven it in his article “The Enemy of my enemy” published in New York Times. Turns out that the proof was pretty simple. (-1) x (-1) = (+1)

Tuesday, February 16’th -

  • Let us give finger-pointing a break, Mr. Advani! – Mr. L. K. Advani in his recent blog post blamed ex-Prime Minster Jawaharlal Nehru for the existing challenges which India is having with its neighbors – Pakistan and China. Breaking news, Mr. Advani, it has been more than 45 years since Mr. Nehru passed away!. Does Mr. Advani know what and all has happened in these 45 years – German wall came down, Soviets disappeared, EU was formed, BJP grew and shrunk, Indian Test Cricket team is Numero Uno, and Michael Jackson is no more. In short, it has been a life-time! Like all other departed ones, let Nehru – with all his wisdom and blunders – rest in peace. Along the same lines – IMO, it would be extremely unfortunate and too simplistic view if 50 years from today we solely blame Mr. Advani for being the chief architect for the communal divide in the country which could possibly be prevalent at that time. Now you wouldn’t disagree with me on this point, would you, Mr. Advani?

Wednesday, February 17’th -

  • Formula to get mileage of 4,704,280 per gallon – National Public Radio (NPR) carried a funny yet interesting article today comparing who gives the better mileage – the cars or the bees? Needless to say, the story titled “Bee Vs. Car: Who Gets More Miles per Gallon” is a simplification of many unconsidered assumptions. However, imagine if this could even be about 10-15% true – my guess is that the way the politicians would not have liked the above mentioned research; big oil companies won’t be too happy with this finding too.
  • Can we express our pain through humor? – In theory the answer for this is always yes; but we rarely get an opportunity to see or sense that. Well, this week I got an opportunity to sense/feel that. Yesterday, Fresh Air from NPR carried the book excerpt from recently published Carol Leifer book – “When You Lie About Your Age, The Terrorists Win: Reflections on Looking in the Mirror“. Carol Leifer is a renowned stand-up comedian and all Seinfeld fans (like me) would remember her for some famous episodes which scripted – The Lip Reader, The Hamptons being some of the famous ones. Carol, in the way she could do the best, have written a funny yet heart-breaking eulogy for her father who recently seems to have passed away. Here is the excerpt -

“Every year, I sent my father the same thing, his favorite gift for his birthday. A box of Godiva chocolate-covered nuts. Big emphasis on the nuts. Because, as he was not shy of saying as he unwrapped the cellophane to grab the first piece, “Creams? They’re a waste of time.” But this year is the first year I have no place to send anything. See, that’s the thing that truly sucks about death — no forwarding address!”

Friday, February 19’th -

  • Re-branding of Global Warming –  Thomas Friedman – who in the recent months have become quite vocal supporter of the Global Warming control initiatives – wrote a very interesting op-ed column in NY Times titled “Global Weirding is Here“. In the recent months, the skeptics (and there is a huge population of them, BTW) of Global Warming have been toning up their resistance taking advantage of some screw-ups from some Environmentalists and also particularly cold/snowy weather across many parts of the world. Taking a clue from Mr. Friedman – here is my 2 cents. How about re-branding GW i.e. Global Warming to another GW i.e. Global Wierding? All we have to say that the recent revelations have proved that Global Warming is no longer a possible phenomenon but slowly leak out the news that Scientists have now started to see the Global Weirding phenomenon.

Thats a wrap for this week. I will be back next week with another one in this series. Until then, have a great week ahead. In the meanwhile – don’t forget to check out the previous editions of the weekly retrospectives.

Strategies used by Doctors for Diagnosis

February 19, 2010

[This blog is part of the series which I had been writing about various aspects of Doctor - Patient Relationship. and how the function of diagnosis and treatment are at its core. In my previous blog, I had talked about why disease name identification was a very important step of the diagnosis process. This particular blog talks about what are the strategies which doctors use to diagnose.]

In my previous set of blogs in this series I had started talking about what diagnosis means from medical perspective. DiagnosisOne important realization I had was that Diagnosis is about finding the name of the disease (and the dictionary definition of Diagnosis – “process of determining the identity of (a disease, illness, etc.) by a medical examination” – also conveys the same thing) and not really about treating a patient. As commonsensical as this may sound – I have seen many do tend to miss out on this. According to me though – understanding this subtle difference is important considering that it can have a direct impact on how doctors and patients understand each other.

Now that I think I figured out what the real goal of Diagnosis process was i.e. the ‘why’ part; my next goal was to understand the ‘how’ part. Curiosity in my mind was how do doctor’s diagnose and arrive at a conclusion. Was it through a logic or some magic or by simply looking through a crystal mirror? The blog post from my brother – “What is in the Name?” gave me some insights as to what goes in the doctor’s mind during the diagnosis. My next step was to read and understand if there were any particular strategies using which doctors typically came to a conclusion.

Towards this, I thought the four-strategy model suggested by D. L. Sackett et. all. was a good starting point to start understanding how the typical clinical diagnosis happens (src – “The diagnostic process in general practice: has it a two-phase structure?” by Anders Baerheim). This blog is a summary of what those four strategies are.

Before I summarize them, I think it is important to keep in mind that these strategies are categorized based on the characteristics of the approach used in it. I do not think doctors pre-plan about the type of strategy they are going to use when they see a patient. Most of the times it is a sub-conscious decision and also there is a good chance that hybrids of these approaches are also used in real life practices. So beware – if you were to pop a question to your doc about which technique he was going to use to diagnose you – don’t be surprised if he gives you a blank stare!

So the four techniques described by Sackett et. all. are -

Pattern Recognition strategy -

Subconscious Recognition

Subconscious Recognition

While many can think about medical diagnosis as synonymous to any problem-solving technique where some kind of scientific method is applied to come to a solution, this technique of diagnosis is more instinctive especially when certain configuration of symptoms/clues appears very classical. This results in a instant/unconscious generation of a hypothesis. For example, diagnosing down syndrome after one look at the patient.

This technique of diagnosis for diseases/ailments is possibly the most common strategy/technique used by the doctors – especially the ones who are the most seasoned. More the experience of the doctor (probably clinical and not in terms of years) – better the doctor gets at this. Majority of the time this technique is reflexive and possibly not reflective. Interestingly this is not the technique which doctors are taught in their classrooms; but is learnt on patients. This technique also forms the basis for ‘first’ diagnosis majority of the time.

While Pattern Recognition strategy is the most popular strategy and majority of correct diagnosis happen around using this technique – this technique of medical diagnosis also has some inherent risks associated with it. First and foremost of course, the doctor need to be very good at the skill of looking and sensing patterns. Second, there is always a good possibility that the doctors could fail to look beyond the obvious patterns and hence there is a increased risk of doctor’s tendency to close the diagnosis prematurely. Doctors are also human beings. And like any human beings there is also the risk of introduction of self-biases possibly for self-satisfaction. Unfortunately, this technique also seems to be quite prevalent in over-stressed doctors.

Hypothetico-deductive strategy -

Probabilistic Diagnosis

Probabilistic Diagnosis

Hypothetico-deductive strategy is a type of clinical reasoning model based on a combination of both cognitive science and probabilistic theory. In this strategy, for diagnosing doctors first do a restricted rule-outs i.e. possibilities or causes which they believe the patient is not suffering from. Then they start with a short list of potential hypothesis based on the available clues. This generation of hypotheses is followed by ongoing analysis of patient information in which further data/tests are collected and interpreted (typically in a cyclical manner). Continued hypothesis creation and evaluation take place as various hypotheses are confirmed or negated.

So in some sense in this technique the diagnosis moves from a generalization (multiple hypotheses) to a specific conclusion. This technique is typically used in diagnosing uncommon or rare diseases or where the doctor may not be experienced in a particular disease.

Pitfalls associated with this technique are that doctors require a very good understanding of probability theory. They should have a good knack to work out the horses vs. zebra confusion just based on hearing the hoof-beats. This technique can also turn out to be time and cost consuming.

Algorithm strategy -

Diagnosis Algorithm for Asthama in Older People

Sample Algorithm

This type of diagnosis process is based on Clinical Guidelines/Decision Rules which are typically previously very well defined. When this approach is used, doctors typically refer to the “step-by-step IF-THEN” logic or cause-effect logic well supplemented with bundles of additional supporting information to arrive at a diagnosis. Click on the thumbnail on the right to see a sample algorithm for diagnosis of asthma in older patients. Similar algorithms are available for many such diseases where plenty of historical data is available. Today tools and software are also available to assist doctors in such strategies.

While this method is typically suggested to reduce the diagnosis errors, unfortunately in reality it is estimated that this approach is used in less than 10% of the diagnosis which takes place out there.

Complete History strategy -

Permutations and Combinations

While the Hypothetico-deductive strategy described above can be categorized as ‘diagnosis by probability’, Complete History strategy is typically exhaustion-based and can be categorized as ‘diagnosis by possibility’. This is the approach where all the possibilities are assumed. Then medical facts of the patients are collected and the assumed possibilities are eliminated one by one till the time the diagnosis is reached.

This approach is typically used for diagnosing possibilities of a rare disease or possibly when usage of any of the above listed strategy has not brought in the success of correct diagnosis. In Doctor’s community – this approach is typically considered as the method of novice, impractical, and inefficient.

I would love to hear your thoughts and/or comments!

[Src - Snapshot of the sample algorithm for diagnosis of asthma in older patients is from the article - "An algorithmic approach to diagnosing asthma in older patients in general practice" by Richard E Ruffin, David H Wilson, Sarah L Appleton and Robert J Adams; published by the Medical Journal of Australia.]

Weekly retrospectives and my two cents! [Feb 7 - Feb 13]

February 15, 2010

[Series which captures my thoughts/2 cents on the weekly take on the list of events/news/observations with some satire thrown in. Previous week's retrospectives can be found here. Look forward to hearing your feedback.]

Sunday, February 7’th -

  • Counseling or Coaching for Sarah Palin? – With increasing number of appearances of Sarah Palin in the recent days, New York Times reported about how she seems to be increasing maneuvering herself to a potentially public office role in the coming future. It said and I quote “Ms. Palin has also enlisted a small team of policy counselors to guide her through the substantive areas in which many deemed her to be lacking in 2008.” Now, don’t you think there are few things which are odd in this statement? If things were my way – I would have made the following changes to the same statement. It should have read – “Ms. Palin has also enlisted a small huge team of policy counselors tutors to guide teach her through the substantive all areas in which many all deemed her to be lacking in 2008″.
  • Heinz Ketchup and the Backless gown - Two very important things seem to have gotten redesigned this week. First the ketchup sachet which was last designed about 40 years back got a new look with Heinz Ketchup’s Dip & Squeeze packet. Second – the good-old backless hospital gown seem to have gotten a makeover from world’s top designer. Someone did say – ” One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind”.

Monday, February 8’th -

  • If you ever wanted to disappear for a while… – Universal Pictures is offering $10000 to contestants who can completely disappear for a month. According to them only one person has been somewhat successful in doing so and that too only for 25 days – a writer by the name of Evan Ratliff. Universal Pictures also mentioned that in the recent months they received applications from people like Tiger Woods, NBC Executives, but unfortunately they could not accommodate them.

Wednesday, February 10’th -

  • What is common between Toyota and Tiger Woods? – Why Toyota probably would never be the same again. Because its brand was modeled around ‘state of mind around perfection and trust’  but unfortunately it did not have the preparedness to handle doubt, dismay or the obliteration of trust. Remember someone by the name of Tiger Woods?
  • Airline Industry’s growing hospitality – American Airlines yesterday made an announcement that they would now start charging $8 for a blanket and the pillow. This after they had already started charging extra for luggage, water, peanuts, being over-weight, and a list of other things. Marketplace carried a funny article today wondering what else can airlines charge for. Here is one I can imagine which can come up next – charging for the use of safety belt.

Thursday, February 11’th -

  • R.I.P. – Former US Representative from Texas, Charlie Wilson who inspired the 2007 Tom Hanks starer - Charlie Wilson’s War – passed away today. He was largely credited for inspiring and backing the Afghan Mujaheddin in their battle to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan. He was equivalently vocal about America’s misgivings in Afghanistan post the Russian pullout which finally resulted in the birth of what is today the modern-day Talibans.

Friday, February 12’th -

Saturday, February 13’th -

  • Coming Soon – Mumbai does not belong to Maharashtra Campaign - Looking at the past history of flip-flopping/opportunism from Shiv Sena and the way Mumbai has responded to their hooliganism yesterday – I wouldn’t be too surprised if Sena decides to move out of Mumbai and now start a new agitation demanding that Mumbai should no longer be part of Maharashtra.
  • Shiv Sena’s 40 year Report Card – And while we are at the topic of Shiv Sena – you may want to have a look and evaluate their progress chart over the last 40 years -
Shiv Sena Progress Chart

Shiv Sena Progress Chart - Gradual climb and a steep fall

Thats a wrap for this week. I will be back next week with another one in this series. Until then, have a great week ahead. In the meanwhile – don’t forget to check out the previous editions of the weekly retrospectives.

Technology Start-ups: Tips for India from the West!

February 11, 2010

[Sometimes back a journalist from a leading business publication had asked me if I can write a short essay with my thoughts on what differentiates Indian start-ups from US start-ups and also what were some good learnings which budding start-up industry in India can learn from their mature counter-parts in the West - so that he can file a story on the same. Unfortunately, it seems that the journalist had to move to another story and hence could not take this forward. So I am posting the same essay here for the wider audience.

While the article compares Indian start-ups with US (driven by the need of the Journalist); the comparison in here is valid with start-ups in general with the Western countries besides US too. Thoughts and comments are welcome!]

Startups - India vs. West

I recollect a quote from one of a renowned Management Speaker from United States wherein he had observed that he was amazed to see the entrepreneurial spirit in the current generation of India. “Strong Dollar! No problem!” An Indian entrepreneur seems to have told him. “I can now generate more for the same amount.” For the weaker dollar argument, the same entrepreneur was still bullish. “I can now go and think about buying out someone in US”.

I agree with the speaker. While the modern ways of counting number of self-started businesses a.k.a. start-ups may have a different approach to measure – entrepreneurial endeavors have been prevalent for generations in India. Be it a doctor starting his independent practice or a housewife at home deciding to start an embroidery business. However with technology start-ups (the focus of this article), the state of things in India seem to be slightly different from the other countries in the world. Assuming that in today’s world technology is a common denominator all across the world now, the number of successful technology start-ups in India are still handful.

Over the years having consulted and worked with more than a dozen start-ups – in India and outside India – I feel that I may have some thoughts on this low success numbers (as compared to countries like United States) followed by suggestions to improve those. Hopefully, this will also help to contrast Indian start-ups with their counter-parts in other parts of the world. The points listed below are from the perspective of what are some of the key differentiated learnings which Indian start-ups can take from their counterparts in US (besides some standard best practices for any start-ups).

  • Technology just enables a business; Value Proposition drives the business:

In comparison with the US start-ups, a large majority of Indian start-ups are driven by technologists. I am not surprised by this considering that science and technology has always been close to the heart of the Indians. In their passion for the technology, I have seen that many such entrepreneurs have inherent weakness of not being able to properly formulate the end-user value proposition. As an example – cell phones did not become popular because of the technology; but because of the convenience and accessibility they offered to its users. However, the same cell phone user may not be ready to pay for a video stream on his/her cell just because technology enables video streaming to mobile phone too. I have started to cringe when yet another entrepreneur’s focus is on technology which allows you to find the nearest X, say plumber, using your mobile phone. My question to them remains – is this a technology solution or a value proposition?

  • Focus on the early adopters:

Another difference between the Indian and US start-ups is their focus on who their potential customers would be. Compared to their US peers, Indian start-ups traditionally seem to have believed that their success is directly proportional to the wide range of customers they can attract at the start. One might think of this as a natural strategy; however in my experience it dilutes the value proposition and confuses the initial set of users. Start-ups are all about crisp and focused value proposition. Entrepreneurs should focus on the needs of early adopters of their value proposition. More users will naturally follow if these early adopters like what these start-ups have to offer.

As an example, we had worked with a start-up focusing on using social media streams for project management. It was a powerful concept and in their zeal they tried targeting all possible personas for the first release. Unfortunately, a late entry in this space with a small focus got all the attention when they could crisply explain their value proposition to a subset and people could make sense out of it. The first company sadly could never recover from that setback.

  • Focus on execution; Ideas are just temporary:

Majority of start-ups today are based on a value offering as compared to a new or ground-breaking intellectual property. Contrary to the popular belief, it is not the ‘idea’ of the start-up which is critical for the success. An all-round focus on execution which includes building a strong advisory and organization team, partnerships, software engineering, messaging, launches, etc. is what matters. Indian start-ups need to be sensitive to this aspect of achieving success.

  • Productization of the “offering”:

Whether the start-up has a product or a services offering – in today’s world the productization of what customers are buying from them is becoming increasingly important. By productization, I mean things like Messaging, User Experience, Packaging, Clear Pricing, Delivery, etc. US start-ups with their experience over the years typically have done a better job in this. Indian start-ups need to catch up on this in a faster way.

  • If we build it, they will come!”:

This principle may have worked for Kevin Costner in the movie Field of Dreams‘; but unfortunately this may not apply in real-world start-up scenarios. In the initial stages of the start-ups, the entrepreneurs have to think about from the perspective of earning each and every of their customer. And let me tell you from my experience that it is not easy. Entrepreneurs may have invested a lot in building their product; however if they cannot invest in the Marketing & Sales effort their success may not be guaranteed. Start-ups in India need to increasingly focus on this aspect of their go-to-market plan.

I am of the view that Start-ups/Entrepreneurship in India is booming, however it is in its end success rate where India might be struggling. The above suggestions are more from the learning of what the US counter parts are doing better. Compared to them, Indian start-ups probably also do not have access to the best of environments, infrastructure, or an ecosystem. However, I have also heard from many US start-ups envying business opportunities and possibilities that India offers and to which Indian start-ups have easy access to.

[Image Src - "Start-ups That Work" by Joel Kurtzman]

[Update|Feb. 24, 2010 - New York Times carried the news today about Intel's initiative to pump in about $3.5 Billion into technology start-ups in US fearing that America might be losing its competitive edge to countries like China and India. Interesting article which covers some interesting points as to how each country view's start-ups in the 'other' countries.]

Weekly retrospectives and my two cents! [Jan 31 - Feb 6]

February 8, 2010

[Series which captures my thoughts/2 cents on the weekly take on the list of events/news/observations with some satire thrown in. Previous week's retrospectives can be found here. Look forward to hearing your feedback.]

Sunday, January 31’st -

Monday, February 1’st -

  • Double Giveaways from US – The popular panda – Tai Shan – from the Washington DC National Zoo (I had the pleasure of seeing him in his early years) was shipped to China by US. Incidentally, US also shipped arms to Taiwan this week too.

Tuesday, February 2’nd -

  • Coming of age for Mr. R. R. Patil – Sometimes we do have to give credit to the politicians where it is deserved. For example – following the incident in Mumbai where the girl drove under the influence of alcohol and killed two people, the Hon’able Home Minister of Maharashtra – Mr. R. R. Patil needs to be complimented for not saying “these things happen!”. See he has come a long way and matured since his Mumbai 26/11 goof-up. He also announced that there would be a 2000% increase in drunk driving fine. When asked as to how did he come up with the number 2000  and why not less or why not more – a confused Mr. Patil immediately asked his secretary – “why didn’t you tell me that a number more than 2000 existed?“.
  • US Deficit / Dalai Lama / Vaccine Development vs. Aishwarya/Salman – Lots of important things which are happening and being discussed in the world today. For example – the growing US deficit and its impact on the entire world for decades to come; China getting upset over upcoming Dalai Lama visit to US; Bill and Melinda Gates making $10 billion pledge for vaccine development; and ofcourse last but not the least Bollywood actress Aishwarya Rai having smiled at Bollywood actor Salman Khan (video link).

Wednesday, February 3’rd -

  • Should you be serving hot tea or iced tea to your guests? - Should that be the host’s choice or the guest’s choice? Well if I understood the article published by Natalie Angier in New York Times today titled “Abstract Thoughts – The Body takes them Literally” the answer is – well, it depends! If you as the host are keen in having your guest/s having a warm and favorable opinion about you – then better serve them a hot drink. Else leave the choice to the host.
  • Animals as Protagonists in Action Movies - This week I owe the old Bollywood movie directors an apology! Now that I have grown up – my grudge against them was that time-and-again they fed me movies based on old folk-lore where animals like snakes, etc. were the main protagonist keen on taking revenge on human beings (assuming that these human beings had done something bad to them). This week – however – researchers from University de Toulouse, France came out with a study proving that bees can recognize faces. So if they can recognize faces, then the guess is that they can interact with human beings, and if they can interact then movies can be made out of them. I do understand that snakes are no bees – but then the USP of Bollywood has also been about stretching an imagination.

Thursday, February 4’th -

  • Chauvinistic Barking - How often do we pay attention or step out of the house to check when a dog barks on the street? Then why are we paying so much attention to all the chauvinistic barking which is currently going on in Mumbai? My apologies for the insensitive comment. I have the deepest amount of respect for the canine family.

Friday, February 5’th -

  • Thackeray knows his history quite well - We certainly need to give credit to the old man Bal Thackeray as he is raising the bar in his attacks on the Gandhi family – both literally and figuratively. He started with Rahul Gandhi, then his mother and then went after his grand-mother – Indira Gandhi. Then he attacked his great-grandfather – ex. Prime Minister Nehru. Today he attacked Rahul’s great-great-grandfather – Motilal Nehru. Now does anyone know the name of Motilal Nehru’s father? Bal Thackerey is asking for it for his forth-coming attack.
  • Who is hiring in Corporate Messaging/Media Relationships area? – Where can one find the best jobs in Corporate Messaging and Media Relationships? My answer is that this week they are all in Toyota.

Thats a wrap for this week. I will be back next week with another one in this series. Until then, have a great week ahead. In the meanwhile – don’t forget to check out the previous editions of the weekly retrospectives.

What is common between Agile Methodology and the Three Monkey story? Its simplicity!

February 5, 2010

It has been some time since I have blogged about any topics associated with Agile Methodology. Quite honestly – over the last 1-2 years, I had started observing that a set of simple and beautiful guiding principles were getting over-stretched and over-strained and over-complicated by few individuals/groups/companies possibly to out-do the others or simply to rake in some money. IMHO, much to the detriment of Agile – a simple concept was getting converted into a complicated science. This is when I started switching myself off. Well, until this week…

This week I refused to attend an organization mandate to undergo training in Agile. For me, the word ‘training’ threw me off. What was there in Agile that required training and could not be learnt by simply reading? It is one thing that one does not know what Agile is (so one just has to read about it), but the premise that one needs to undergo training in it somehow creates an impression that we are dealing with something complex. Quite honestly it is not and the complexity in it is a man-made thing.  Let me explain why I felt that by giving a slightly non-related but similar example.

Almost all of you must have seen the three wise monkey picture – popularly also known as Mahatma Gandhi’s Three Monkeys (see picture below). These three monkeys represented the proverbial principle – “see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil”.

Three Monkey Methodology

Three Monkey Methodology - Is it complex to understand?

For the sake of this blog post let me call these principles as  “Three Monkey Methodology“. What I like about this methodology is that it clearly describes the three maxims (i.e. see no evil, hear no evil, and speak no evil) in a simple and crisp way such that it is self-explanatory to almost except possibly five (or less) years old. The additional thing which I like about this representation is that they have not tried to explain it in any more details and have left it to the understanding of the individuals as to how they would like to interpret it based on their surroundings and experiences.

Now imagine if this Methodology evolved today. I have strong feeling that in today’s world driven by hype and monetization  (analogous to what is happening to Agile Methodology) – we might have seen the following -

  • Paper or Book Titles – “Three Monkey Methodology for Product Management”; “Applying Three Monkey Methodology to Configuration Management Practices”; “Learn Three Monkey Methodology in 3 days”; “Three Monkey Methodology for Dummies”, etc.
  • Training Courses – “Three Monkey Methodology for CEOs”; “Power your Engineering Team with Three Monkey Methodology”; etc.
  • Certifications – “Certified Three Monkey Methodology Developer”; “Three Monkey Methodology – Level II Certified”; etc.
  • Marketing Messages – “We provide engineering services using Three Monkey Methodology”; “Best Three Monkey Methodology Expertise Shop in Town”; “We follow Three Monkey Methodology in all our Departments”; etc.

Once the activities or messaging such as above begins to happen, our simple Three Monkey Methodology suddenly now starts to appear or feel complex. However, hopefully you will agree with me now that this complexity is now a man-made thing and not inherent in the methodologies principles. This is exactly the same way I feel with this whole Agile thing.

Similar to Three Monkey Methodology – IMO Agile Methodology also has four maxims (check out the Agile Manifesto) written in simple yet crisp manner and left to the interpretation of the Software Practitioners for its implementation as they see fit. The hope there was that anyone who had experienced Software Development even in a slightest manner would be able to understand where these four guidelines were coming from. There-in lied the beauty and power of these four principles. Simple yet powerful enough to be individually interpreted and applied to real-word circumstantial scenarios!

In my opinion, the challenge started when few started taking the ownership of interpreting Agile and forcing that interpretation on others. This is where the essence of Agile was lost because it opened the doors for over-complications, mis-interpretations, un-required group’isms, consultants, trainers, etc. while closing the door for plain vanilla common sense. Agile was meant to be simple and it needs to remain simple. As simple as the Three Monkey Methodology!

Look forward to your thoughts and comments!

[Update|Feb. 17, 2010: Looks like there are others too who are thinking that this whole Agile and its associated certification/training beginning to sound like more of a marketing gimmick. Read the article (along with the discussions at the bottom) titled "Is Scrum Certification Having Another Makeover?" published at InfoQ.]

Weekly retrospectives and my two cents! [Jan 24 - Jan 30]

February 1, 2010

[Series which captures my thoughts/2 cents on the weekly take on the list of events/news/observations with some satire thrown in. Previous week's retrospectives can be found here. Look forward to hearing your feedback.]

Sunday, January 24’th -

  • Bad roads are safe – What happened in Haiti last week was heartbreaking. One simply cannot quantify or measure the human tragedy. However, without losing the sensitivity behind that – this week US Army Engineers brought the good news – Haiti’s bad roads were not damaged by the quake (src – Washington Post). Two cents worth to cheer about!

Monday, January 25’th -

Tuesday, January 26’th -

  • Corporates or Cartels? - Now that the Hon’able Home Minister of India, P. C. Chidambaram has spoken on the IPL mess last week, I also feel safe to express my opinion about it. With the whole issue around the non-selection of the Pakistani cricket players in IPL beginning to stink, Lalit Modi came forward to clarify few things. He said there was no conspiracy in the non-selection of the Pakistani players. It was the collective IPL cartel decision!
  • Young or Old – And India celebrated its 60’th anniversary of being a Republic country today. And immediately the debate of “60 years young” or “60 years old” was kicked off by many so-called intellectuals in the media! Some of these intellectuals came from Lalkrishna Advani generation and the remaining came from Rakhi Sawant generation!

Wednesday, January 27’th -

  • This is what happens when you snore through your history classes - After Sachin Tendulkar’s comments about a month back that Bombay or Mumbai belonged to India, today his IPL employer Mukesh Ambani made a comment on the same line. I am guessing that as a similar reaction to Sachin’s comment, another so-called Tiger is going to roar (or purr – whatever!) in the next few days trying to ask Mukesh Ambani to manage his own business. And the debate will continue as whether Mumbai belongs to India, Portuguese, or simply Maharashtra. Here is my 2 cents about this whole thing. IMO, the perpetrators of this debate know that the opposite party do not have any perspective to disagree with them. How many of us have read through the history of Mumbai? How many of us appreciate the interesting journey which the city of Mumbai has taken in the last 3000 years before the newly created state of Maharashtra in 1960 had an independent state of Bombay merge with them? But then again as I said before – we did snore through our history classes.

Thursday, January 28’th -

  • Valentine’s Day, Hamburgers, and the ‘steamy’ celebrations - New York Times carried an article today talking about what various businesses are doing to attract customers on the upcoming Valentine’s Day. While looking through the various offers which businesses were planning to roll out to attract customers for their special day – the offer from White Castle (a fast food burger shop primarily based in US) caught my eye. I have to confess here first that I personally do not have the right insights as to how to best celebrate Valentine’s Day. However, I am not able to imagine going with the Valentine to have a combo meal for two of 10 ‘heart attack‘ hamburgers, two orders of French fries and two 21-ounce sodas and then promising an eternity of love for each other. White Castle is also claiming that this offer is going to make Valentine’s Day steamy! Once again, I am just reconfirming that I really do not understand Valentine’s Day that well!

Friday, January 29’th -

  • Thank you Mr. Osama Bin Laden – Felt very enlightened today after hearing Mr. Osama Bin Laden’s thoughts on climate change. I am now also looking forward to Mr. Laden enlightening us on cancer research, same sex marriage, extra-terrestrial life, Facebook, etc. etc.
  • And someone did purr - And as I had predicted above – the ‘old’ tiger did purr!

Saturday, January 30’th -

  • Modi‘ism – Quote from Pradeep Magazine in Hindustan Times – “Lalit Modi – Amar Singh of Indian Cricket” (link to article). Damn, the man stole my line!
  • Parsing a Sorry - Next time someone apologizes to you or if you hear someone apologizing – this article by Alina Tugend in New York Times today – “An Attempt to Revive the Lost Art of Apology” – can certainly act as a cheat sheet to analyze whether they really meant it. With the way apologies and sorry which tends to flow out so easily nowadays – knowing the science behind apologies can be a handy thing.
  • Tony Blair’s resume is ready – I thought I would get an opportunity to use the above theory if Mr. Tony Blair were to apologize for unilaterally invading Iraq in his testimony yesterday. But Blair said that he is not sorry for invading Iraq and added that he would do it again. He also added that his experience in invading Iraq would be very valuable if West decides to invade Iran.

Thats a wrap for this week. I will be back next week with another one in this series. Until then, have a great week ahead. In the meanwhile – don’t forget to check out the previous editions of the weekly retrospectives.


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