Vishal Sikka and Infosys

Story trending yesterday was that Indian IT industry’s poster boy, Infosys (Infy), is going to appoint Vishal Sikka, former Chief Technologist of SAP AG, as new CEO. After a spate of negative news on senior executive exodus over last few months, this should create a somewhat positive mood about the company – one among the top 4 IT behemoths in India.

There is no doubt that Vishal is a big brand in technology industry. He has impeccable past credentials as a product innovator giving birth to the latest flagship product of SAP – HANA (High-Performance Analytic Appliance). With Syracuse and Stanford adorning his academic bio, he is often hailed as visionary in the domain.

All these underline the fact that Vishal is out and out a product guy with a long stint in one of the world’s top business software company. No one knows if he has never done services business. The fact that everyone is failing to understand is how Vishal and Infy would complement each other. Under the pressure of bringing someone from outside as fresh blood, triggered by the market and shareholders, hopefully another inefficient decision is not being made like few other glaring ones in the past.

Common knowledge says that relevant experience be given importance for a leadership position. History has seen quite a few turnaround stories by capable leaders. It is not that uncommon that leaders from a different domain have taken the reign of other beleaguered companies and driven them to success. These have happened more so, when the strategic decisions are taken around consumers rather enterprises. All these changes, done with a fair bit of risk involved, have yielded a mixed bag of failure and success.

After Mr. Murthy’s return for his 2nd stint, he has tried to bring back focus on day to day, brick and mortar business, in the form of support, maintenance and testing contracts for boosting revenue. Cost cutting and operational excellence are also other factors that he has stressed on. The focus is to do that more what Infosys does best. Innovation and operational efficiency seldom work hand in hand as they are highly related to the DNA of the organization. It is better to keep the entities separate and Infy has already taken a step towards that by hiving off the product and platform group to a new entity. TCS and Cognizant-current India IT leaders and their other worldwide peers from services industry have different set of parameters to deal with when compared to a Google driverless car innovation or a high performance computing platform like SAP-HANA.

While Vishal will surely bring fresh perspectives of technology, there are many questions that come to mind are how he would be relevant in these schemes of things. As Infosys is readying itself to take this coupe or gamble or whatever strategic decision management has thought about, will it also not create a fair bit of confusion amongst the customers, vendors and other stakeholders about future direction the company is going to take? Is Infosys going to transform itself as an innovation led product company or will there be forced marriage between the two different business approaches which generally do not work that well? Assuming Vishal will lead the services arm, let’s wait for further clarifications on the thoughts and vision for this appointment. I am equally curious to know the contours of discussion Vishal had with the board during the process.

Is Infosys only interested in brand Vishal?

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How to motivate team members to deliver more than 100%? Is striking a chord the answer?

The other day, I was talking to one expert consultant, dealing on organizational  behavior, about keeping team members  motivated and he was trying to establish the point that there could not be anything as delivering more than 100% . According to him, it was a misrepresented term and management uses it loosely without really pondering on it. He was not very hesitant to ridicule the concept considering the mathematical significance of the term. I, albeit politely, took him aside and narrated the following incident over a drink.

A project 1 was running under a project manager and things were going as expected. The project involved a transformation initiative where a system needs to be re-architected, designed and implemented. There was quite a bit of complexity involved and everyone was delivering to the fullest for 5 days a week in accordance to the plan. We can safely say that the team is fully utilized and team members are delivering 100% of their ability in the context of the project.

One fine beautifully sunny Saturday morning, a production support issue occurred in the same account but in a different project 2. The dedicated team for the support project was not able to handle -considerable deliberation on the issue already done. One of the senior engineers from the project 1 team could add considerable value on the issue and the delivery manager decided to request his support. The person requested to could well refuse to extend the required support making some excuses. Here was the point the management was expecting more than 100% from the identified person, going beyond his set boundaries in the context of his work.

The consultant seemed to see the point through, considering the criticality of the situation, and agreed to support the project, in turn the account.

As stated earlier, the senior engineer could have easily avoided the request without any apparent performance issue affecting him as he was a star performer, continuously excelling, in his currently assigned project. But he agreed. The reason being the request was from his manager who had touched a chord with him over a period of time. He was ready to go that extra mile, a stretch of few extra hours, –even if it called for rescheduling his own schedules until there was something unavoidable.

From my own experience of managing teams across different delivery functions, I have often seen that establishing connects of mutual trust -crossing the formal boundaries, often help. It does not mean that I was and am able to solve all their professional challenges or career aspirations but I was being candid, transparent and open in dealing with them. Transparency matters.

As part of mandatory Human Resource driven programs, all the teams undergo different bonding events. While those activities do matter and go a long way in gelling in a group, my point is one step ahead. Here I am stressing on walking an extra yard by the managers for their team members, giving some patient and sincere time to them. The quality time worth spending, trying to understand their side of the story and being conscious and part of them, help in turn creating a bond. It involves sincerity and transparency in communication and behavior. Giving the right kind of advice at the right time -in the context of market situation, technological advancements, and opportunities; do create a relationship based on mutual trust and faith in the minds of the team members. They start believing in you, see you as mentor and would want to reciprocate in a similar way by doing something different. It does not indicate to be easy on them and should not be construed as being partial to select few. It is more of creating the bond of mutual respect and connect which touch them at the core- the underlying theme that can propel a team to excel from mere performers. Winning the heart and mind of the team is seen as one of the most critical factor for a harmonized group to deliver.

A mentor to the team, in the true spirit of the term, often helps to create a congenial working environment and that special bond. From my personal experience and feedback received, the little success I could achieve as a mentor, not only from technical point of view but also from an overall personal growth perspective have gone a long way. Guiding my team members in a transparent way rather than giving politically correct answers like “I will look into it” and doing nothing affect negatively in forging a successful bonding. Gone are the days that people would believe in the insincere and casual statements like that. They hurt and break down the basic fabric of collaboration to a great extent. It automatically shows its ugly face outside of the team as well spreading a negative vibes all around.

People have heard enough of the false promises made and appreciate being upfront with the right message much before they hear it from an outsider so that appropriate and timely planning can be actioned. It is the matter of one’s aspirations and being successful and can’t be taken lightly.

In this context, it should not be misunderstood that team messaging would be always against management to be in tune with what they would like to hear. It has to bring out the right and just message on either side – positive and negative, in the letter and spirit. The manager should also appropriately percolate organizational constraints and opportunities that might be on offer to remain relevant when compared to external challenges like competitions and challenging business environments.

While it is not possible to deal with each and every member of the team at a personal level, I am not indicating to take that path at all. In fact, in my mind, that might sometime confuse team members with the communication. Personal interactions often help but segregating personal from professional commitments is equally a must. This aspect should be going out from managers loud and clear.

In the perspective of vendor-customer paradigm, it has been often observed that while all the vendors have more or less equal caliber and capacity, customer would like to make the decision to award the business to that vendor where there is an emotional connect of trust and confidence -on which he can depend on and that vendor would go that extra mile in the hour of crisis. Nowadays, more than technical, it is that aspect of emotional connect that customers are looking for to make a decision. I will discuss this another day in another post.

 

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Our First Agile Project : Mindset change, Learning and Yes, we did complete it subsequently

The year was 2011 and the month -November.  Agile was still the talking point in my delivery team of 200+ resources and my esteemed client from Europe – being advised by the industry leading consultants, wanted to get hands dirty in a proof of concept development. Everybody, the stakeholders from client side and us, everyone with a level of understanding different than others of this new way of working, was in the learning curve on a day to day basis. At the behest of a senior executive, a challenge was taken up to get a ringside view of how agile would work in a distributed environment – teams separated through geographical distance and cultural differences.

With a planned budget of 4 sprints, we, a team drawn from client and vendor, got thrown into executing our first agile project.

On this journey, we got Mrs. Swati Garg, an experienced agile practitioner by then, as the coach cum scrum master to help us sail the boat. The day Swati called us – the multi-disciplinary team comprising of functional and technical fields, for a pre-project workshop, many eyebrows were raised. We, the so called experts of project delivery by all the standards practiced till then, had frowned upon the idea of the workshop at the beginning but by the end, came out as a more learned team on the concepts of this agile way of working (wow), the parlance, and the associated ceremonies to reap maximum benefit. As it involved quite a bit of unlearning and re-learning, not everything that was discussed in the workshop could be digested with our already molded mindset in the usual client-vendor mode of working. With set role and defined expectations between the client and vendor party, the concept of one team drawn from members of client and vendor did not go down well as we were apprehensive of getting exposed too early too soon and our faults could be found on a daily basis of execution.

Teams were spread across onsite and Bangalore. We had one business analyst and an additional scrum master at onsite to be close to the business –the product owner and also take part in scrum of scrum meetings with two additional teams- supposedly more experienced in agile from the overall project perspective. Though it might be pointed out that it defeats the purpose having two scrum masters facilitating and helping the team, it was a conscious decision taken and agreed by all the stakeholders with a view to smoothen out the initial hiccups and teething challenges arriving out of teams not co-locating.

The team of eight, named “Phoenix” coined by the team members, started breaking down the epics to stories to tasks along with the corresponding efforts under the careful vigilance and guidance of scrum masters. Story point estimation done in the classical way of “pack of cards” was an eye-opener for all the participants. Limiting the stand-up meetings to the 15 minutes and to limit to three questions arranged at a mutually convenient time at 2 PM IST to suit onsite time zone -not dragging the same to be a technical clarification meeting, was a huge challenge in the beginning few days.

There were initial trepidations from few quarters of client side management- coming from the traditionally biased mentality during usual trust building timeframe, to review and monitor the work being executed at offshore and wanted to have physical camera fitted at the workplace.  With help of Microsoft lync based technology, enabling AV meeting where everyone could see each other, these worries got replaced by confidence in no time.

The impediments on workspace creation for final delivery had dependency on a third agency – not made party to the whole project from the beginning and hence stories could not be delivered on time satisfying the agreed definition of done (DoD) till third sprint. From a metric perspective, this resulted to the story point delivered against story point committed as zero. Knowing the overall situation and shouldering the responsibility equally, there was no finger pointing for the failure, rather the invaluable learnings from the exercise gave credence to the overall objective – tuning the way of working in the context and devising the overall transformation charter.

At the end of each sprint demo and retrospective sessions, team gained in more knowledge with the nuances of being agile and the beauty of this simple process. When the project was over, the wisdom gained far outweighed the failures in the below mentioned areas.

  • Team is accountable and supreme.
  • Team self-manages itself.
  • Transparency is the key between product owner and team to be successful.
  • Scrum master is not a project manager rather a facilitator to remove impediments.
  • Team needs to budget time in Sprint n+1 to take care of the technical debts arising out of deliveries till sprint n.
  • Test automation is must for regression and integration points.
  • The ceremonies, if observed in the truest sense bring real value to the team.
  • There is nothing like semi Agile- either you commit to it or don’t.

We did not hesitate to conclude that the crucial 3-4 weeks spent in our first agile project – in distributed mode, was a new beginning for all of us opening a new chapter on how a project gets delivered with involvement from all the stakeholders from the word go on day one. We agreed to commit ourselves in this journey going forward as the benefits – less cost of correction, bringing business value faster; were all looming large and too obvious to ignore.

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Importance of Continuous Learning-21st Century Work Environemnt

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

Life is like liquid in motion – it takes the path you will it to take. You can allow it to stagnate and gather moss or keep it flowing sweeping across all the obstacles. Learning in every step and turn, nook and corner is the only way in one’s possession to keep life flowing and roaring. It is the way through which life finds a new way out every time it is faced with new challenges in the face of odds.

Importance of learning in life lies in the very fact that life becomes listless and indolent when one stops learning. The other day, one of my uncles from neighborhood, my friend’s father, was lamenting the fact that how handicapped he feels not able to use computer or email. While I was trying to reason out in an effort to soothe him citing the age factor, his opinion was that his failure is causing misery in him and the dissatisfaction was writ clearly on his face.

This is more so in the current situation and context when the environment is constantly changing. At the risk of sounding clichéd that change is the only constant in today’s life, all of us recognize the fact that it is the new normal. With all the technological revolution, we witness it in our lives every day. The world has gone through major milestone changes in the past century, initiated by the industrial revolution. But the social change brought in by that was no match to the impact of technology driven digital revolution that commenced in the late nineties of 20th century. Internet –at the center of today’s this revolution and digital lifestyle, being the catalyst for the new age momentum, has fuelled this change in all directions. Innovation in getting things done differently – in significantly easier ways; is the mantra of this age and one has to keep learning the outcomes just so as to not lag behind and be outdated and outsmarted.

With so much importance on keeping pace with the changes and of continuous learning attached, it is imperative that similar thought process is followed and practiced in a contemporary technology driven company having direct bargain on the overall business impact. In terms of technology enablers towards maximizing output, there are newer tools and options coming into play very frequently obsoleting the old way of working. Let’s take a look at the shelf life of the technical gadgets available today. It is at a maximum of 6-8 months by the time when a newer alternative is available with better, sleeker and more powerful features. The rate, at which android OS are being released, advanced analytics techniques are put into play to understand intricate details of customer behavior to tailor offerings or on-premises applications are finding new home in the cloud for lower maintenance cost added with accessibility features, call for rapid change in the technology mindset of a company and staff members with the added responsibility of adapting to all these. To keep stride with these advancements, the shelf life of the related implementation technologies is also changing fast in today’s work environment. The four pillars of technology growth – mobility, social networks, analytics and cloud are dominating today’s technology landscape to drive innovation and one’s awareness of continuously evolving new skills is a must. One has to be open to changes, take active part in researches supporting these innovations –a great number of them primarily available through open source projects on internet and be skilled before these become commonplace in the market. There is very little or no scope of complacency as someone else will grab the opportunity making the other person redundant in the workplace.

 To sum it all, continuous learning and new skill development are the only ways to keep one relevant in today’s work environment and keep pace with the new normal– the change.

Let me know your thoughts.

–Jayanta Tewari

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5 focus aspects for an organizational agile transformation

An organization – be it IT or non-IT, aspiring to move from traditional waterfall or V-Model way of project functioning to agile way of working (WoW) has to go through a organization wide transformation process with significant change management at all  levels  across  length and breadth. In my opinion, following are the five most important drivers that need to be followed without any deviation for a successful transformational change.

  • Ø Senior management, from all functions of the organization, have to be absolutely convinced about the benefit of this transformation and accordingly back the execution team through initial ups and downs. “Aspiration” has to be changed to “conviction” from where there is no looking back. The transformation planning has to be sponsored top-down for the success to be achieved.
  • Ø An effective communication change management plan to be devised and put in place to percolate the vision across all employee levels. This messaging has to reach to the heart and mind of all the employees and they need to be on the brought on the same boat. Resistance to change is a natural human behavior and hence this communication plan has to doubly effective to take away any kind of fear and apprehension from the mind of employees.
  • Ø Experienced agile transformation coaches or agilists need to be roped in to help steer the organization through the journey. The coaches will be supported by an internal lead execution team having a buy-in in the thought process. The lead execution time would have already embraced the new practices mentally by this time. The workshops conducted by these experts, involving employees and stakeholders at all levels, will complement the change management plan already communicated. Workshops, being a key execution stepping stone in the overall journey, will define the new WoW in the context of the business practices of the organization. The overall WoW will involve relevant external and internal factors and most importantly the customer base and expectations .
  • Ø In addition to workshops, appropriate training programs with the agile theory and principles -suited to different employee groups at different levels, will have to be rolled out by the lead execution team.
  • Ø Retrospective review by executive Sponsoring team along with the lead execution team, moderated by the Coach in a timely manner with 2 week sprint mode is a must. While tailoring of the execution plan is expected by the review committee, unflinching support by the senior management – going back to point 1, is a must, beyond any bit of doubt.

–Jayanta Tewari

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High Performing Organizations

Much has been dealt on these subject by subject matter experts but today I will try to capture my thoughts and observations on this topic. As this is a treatise from someone with firsthand experience in many types of organizations in social and corporate fabric, please expect this to be bereft of the theoretical jargons and research based theories.

Establishing myself a people oriented person -believing in ultimate team work and mutual collaboration, on one hand, I have seen from very close quarters that a set of people performing out of their skin  and on the other side, smart players taking the cake away. Not going to the details  related to tradeoff between hard work and smart play and associated charismatic positioning of one’ self, I will allow myself to put my thoughts around three very significant aspects of a higher performing organization in my view. It is the manager’s fine capabilities to extract the very best out of his team members and below points play a much bigger role in that aspect. They push one to overcome his/her shortcomings to take that extra stride for his manager to perform. As a manager or captain in as good as his team, careful look at nurturing the individuals is very vital for a team to outperform itself.

Reduction of blame game: Accountability and responsibility are two key elements of any decision making process and the results they produce in the context of time, resources and environment vary immensely. Sometimes the decision taken after much careful jurisprudence of facts in a certain context do not yield the required result and vicious cycle of finger pointing starts towards the decision maker or taker. This results into a situation of defensive argumentation in short terms and she/he stops short of any such actions in future. In the long run, when decision making is lingered, organization suffers. The way to come out of the situation is taking a stock of the situation at hand, minimization of further loss if any and chalking out the turnaround story as a team. This kind of environment allow people to think, take calculated risks for success and back up the failures as a team as and when needed for the next hurdle to be overcome or milestone to be achieved.  The organization moves forward with sharing success and failures, win and loss in the almost in similar if not same stride.

Positive reinforcement   is another very important factor that helps many a time individuals and team to outperform one’s capabilities. A pat in the back or appropriate recognitions often creates wonders beyond expectations. This is something to be done whenever possible and very often rather waiting for a special moment.  Crediting someone only on special and exceptions occasions are all fine and good but they being few and far between do not act as a tonic to motivate a sagging mind. Dwelling more on the positives and as less as possible on negatives improve the overall work environment for high performance. Don’t get me wrong that I am ruling out factors like “root cause analysis” as they are very much important for best practices implementation and elimination of path of error but the spirit that they should be looked at makes all the difference. The art of sharing success in public and divulging failures in private during a day to day work process have a quite significant impact on performance.

Fostering Innovation is the third point I would like to discuss and very much related to above two aspects. For a company to stay relevant and bring more and better value to its consumers, continuously innovating itself and innovating the offerings are a must and a company has to be wild into that philosophy.  There is no scope of conservatism or skepticism in the path of innovation as it often deals with unknown and hence uncertainties. One needs to allow and create a culture of thinking out of the box helped with lateral thinking and thinking in every direction completely out of the systemic thoughts and out of this world forgetting the boundaries of practicability and if they are fit to be implemented.

Effective Resource utilization and making sense of profit and loss are the thoughts exactly opposite the culture of innovation and do not go hand in hand. From that aspect, the innovating companies need to have a big heart and courage to take risks allowing employees to take decisions- some of them might turn into big duds and should not blame them for that. Pushing the bar and continuously fostering that culture not taking a step back or blinking an eye in the journey of innovation create great products completely out of the blue.

To my views, these three aspects, if cultured with belief and conviction in an organization, will certainly propel the same to the next orbit of performance pushing everyone a notch high. Ultimately the organization would benefit.

–Jayanta Tewari

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