Archive for the ‘Communication’ Category

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.

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.

Recommendations on LinkedIn – Give it a proper thought!

August 21, 2009

I had always feared this (see the picture from LinkedIn User Profile below). A public and easy way of allowing people to recommend each other would sooner or later have led to misuse of an important tool in career building i.e. recommendations.

Recommendations on LinkedIn

Recommendations on LinkedIn

I would refrain from commenting more on this particular instance (as the individual comes from my network). However, I felt that pointing this thing out might help others in using caution in using the LinkedIn recommendation feature to their benefit. (My apologies for the grainy picture)

While we are on this topic, here are few other blogposts which you might want to check out for managing recommendations on LinkedIn.

Thoughts and comments are welcome.

Don’t sell Experience; sell Experiences!

July 29, 2009

During my recent flight on American Airlines to US, I got a chance to flip through their recent edition of in-flight magazine – American Ways. I came across this very well written article by Joseph Guinto titled – “Making a Change” – in which he talks about how one can make a career change if the existing one is not working out for him or her. One of the sub-title caught my eye – “Forget your experience, sell your experiences“.

How true!

While the context of the above statement has been used more from a job-career perspective; IMO, it also applies a lot to many aspects of marketing and selling of any products or services. From a job-career perspective, I have seen that  it is a common habit of focusing more on self as individuals rather than trying to describe self as part of a role played in a particular scenario.

Sounds confusing as to what I meant? Well, here is a very simplistic example. Suppose you are an experienced Java programmer and you want to mention this attribute of yours on your resume. Based on my experience of scanning thousands of resumes, I think majority of the individuals would have written this as –

Experienced Java Programmer” or “Java Programmer with 5 years of experience”

Note that the above statement is only referring to your experience i.e. what you know and how much you know (Assuming here that years of experience is a quantifiable way of measuring how much you know. Whether that is true or not is a point of another debate). What if the above experience can be put in the manner as below –

“Successfully helped build a streaming media product using Java for a online social media start-up with needs for rapid go-to-market, managing fast-evolving requirements, and collaborating with geographically distributed team.”

Now the above statement in a way talks about your experience in a holistic manner. You are no longer just alluding to your knowledge about Java; but also referring to your overall experiences in building a particular product in a particular environment. Joseph Guinto in his article points to a quote from Rachel Canter – you would get hired for a job not because you think you can do the job, but only if the person/organization hiring you thinks that you can do the job. To do that – as a seller you have to sell your experiences and not just your experience.

IMO, the above statement about selling experiences applies not only to the people looking for a career change, but also to selling other things in life. For example – selling products or services! More and more customers are more interested in knowing if products fits in with their personal needs rather than just simply knowing what the product can do. A classic case of this is Amazon Customer Reviews feature. Customers who have brought the specific product put in their experiences associated with their buy. Potential buyers read through these reviews and typically decide if the product fits in with their needs. Considering that in today’s highly competitive market – be it for a product or any services offering or be it to all of us as individuals if we were to consider ourselves as a product –  when almost all of these things are dime-a-dozen, it is the experiences which sells. Just ask Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz or Virgin CEO, Richard Branson or Kingfisher CEO – Vijay Mallaya!

Thoughts and comments are most welcome!

Use of Metaphors

May 13, 2008

Consciously or sub-consciously – I personally think that I have always been extremely liberal in the use of metaphors (or similes or personifications) in my day-to-day communication. I have always felt that most of the times it has always helped me in communicating my thoughts across.

This weekend I came across this blog by Dave Pollard which I thought summarizes the advantages and risks associated with using metaphors in regular communication quite well. According to Dave, the advantages of using Metaphors as a technique/device in communication has its plus –

“Use of these devices is a very human tendency: They make things easier to understand. When used properly they can bring clarity the way no amount of detailed explanation or information can, and do so very quickly. They can also trigger the imagination, and produce brilliant creative insight. “

However, according to Dave overuse of such techniques in communication can lead to over-simplification of the point which needs to be communicated. Interestingly, Dave also feels that this is a representation of the kind of society we are staying in today – where there is an increasing demand on simplifying things because of the over-whelming feeling that information seekers do not have enough time.

The blog is an interesting read and I would encourage all of you to read the same. While I think I will continue with my use of metaphors in my conversation, however I will certainly keep Dave’s parting advice in mind –

The only practical answer is to learn (and to teach young people) to recognize them, and to recognize them for what they are: Useful, incomplete, imprecise shorthand representations of reality.

Thanks for the great advice, Dave!!

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The Complexity of Status Reports

April 5, 2008

A colleague of mine and I were talking about one particular project where on average about 40 project/status reports were getting generated every week for management/team consumption. Both of us were astonished at this number. But the point which this colleague of mine made next was the real gem and hit the nail in the head. “What is the team trying to hide?

It is amazing to see amount of time being spent by many teams today in just generating the status reports every day or every week. And the complexity of these reports logarithmically increases as the whims and fancies of the managers. These reports today have simple views, side views, top views, bottom views, and multidimensional views – all possible views. There are graphs, excels, powerpoints, etc. Even after all these plethora of reports, one VP Engineering I had talked to, said that by the time she sat to review the reports, her biggest challenge became to make sure that everyone were looking at the same version of the reports. The reports review just became a secondary activity for her.

I am of the personal opinion that the day-to-day or weekly report should not stretch more than answering 4-5 simple questions. All the other ‘crazy’ reports which I alluded to in the above paragraph should be restricted to the ‘Retrospection Meets‘. (Assumption here is that the team is not doing retrospection meets every day or week. If they are that is another criminal waste of time.)

Over the years, I have always wondered why are we today so obsessed with seeing regular reports. Investors are keen in seeing the company financial reports, CEO is keen in seeing the attrition reports, Engineering Lead is keen in seeing the feature status reports, while a QA Manager is keen in seeing the Defect Reports. Hell, even parents are keen in getting regular status reports from their kid’s schools. The more I thought about this and talked to various people about their needs on this subject, there is one thing I have realized. The need for reports is not for seeing the past (i. e. what has happened in the past), but more from the need of seeing/predicting the future. Predictability is the main goal here.

When I think about any project status reports (whether it is a project for software product development or completing a press release article), the key simple questions which any day-to-day status reports should answer are (this is derived from Agile Philosophies) –

  1. [Effort View] How much have we completed and how much is still left?
  2. [Size View] How much have been produced?
  3. [Schedule View] How much ahead or behind are we against the planned?
  4. [Risks View] What are the things which are causing/or could cause a drag on the project?
  5. [Quality View] What is the quality of our output?

The challenge for the Project Management Team would be to see if they can answer these 5 questions in about equivalent number of or slightly more number of reports.

Thoughts/Feedback/Comments would be greatly appreciated.

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March 3, 2008

Is it just me or many of you find the use of abbreviation “ASAP” in regular one-on-one communication, either written or verbal, slightly rude? (ASAP is an abbreviation used for “as soon as possible”)

I have seen this getting used a lot in corporate world. I somehow could never understand the need for this abbreviation. I can understand is associated savings in the SMS world. But the use of it in day-to-day communication or emails is beyond my apprehension.

To prove my point about ASAP sounding slightly rude – here is a test I would like all of you to run on yourself. Read the three sentences listed below aloud (also if possible imagine that someone else is communicating this question to you). See if you can bring out the emotions as conveyed by each of the sentence. For example – words in CAPS assumes that you would be putting more stress on those words. Let me know what kind of feeling you get after reading each sentence –

  1. Can you do this as soon as possible?
  2. Can you do this AS SOON AS POSSIBLE?
  3. Can you do this ASAP?

When I ran this test on myself, here is the feeling I got. Number 1 sounded like a normal conversation sentence or request to me. In the second sentence – while it was a request, I felt that there was also this tinge feeling that things are not at the same wavelength between the sender and the receiver. In third, I felt that it conveyed an outright order to do it or there was also a feeling of superlativeness getting involved from sender’s side.

So unless and until the intention is to communicate the feelings involved in Sentence 2 and 3 very clearly to the receiver, why use the abbreviation ‘ASAP’!

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Public Speaking – Barack Obama Style

January 9, 2008

There is a lot to learn for anyone who is keen in catching the finer points of public speaking from Barack Obama – the Democrat running for US Presidential elections. He is good! I have been following his speeches – especially the ones on TV – and here are some of my observations..

  • Positiveness – not only in his speaking and but in actions also. Notice the ‘claps’ which Obama indulges himself in as he comes on the stage and starts speaking.
  • Pauses – The key in public speaking. It is a timing thing. This guy just seems to have a great knack of pausing at the most correct times between his sentences. His pauses seems to be adding to the message he is trying to communicate.
  • Knack of repeating the key message again and again – Just observe how many times Obama gets to the key message of his campaign – “change”, “we can”, etc. Whatever he says, he makes sure that he comes back to these words again and again. (On the side note here – this reminded the way Subhash Ghai – Bollywood Movie Director – had a knack of getting to his key movie tune again and again at the right time in his movies – Hero, Ram Lakhan, etc. Audiences simply loved it.). Key here is to get that message or sound bites back again at the right time. Sometimes, it can back-fire though if not done properly.
  • Hand postures – Obama’s hands are always visible and all the fingers are pointing in front towards the audience. Always a confident and positive posture! I am personally a big fan of slight hand-waving while speaking (I know that few public speaking gurus think that it can be distracting) and Obama does that quite well.
  • It also helps Obama that he has a slightly deep + hoarse combination of tone. People always like that. Also, his style of speaking in a ‘clergy-style’ also seems to be captivating audiences.

I will post more observations as the campaign goes on. Looks like it is going to be a long one!

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