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Peopleware: Productive Projects and TeamsPeopleware: Productive Projects and Teams by Tom DeMarco
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book covers in details on how sociology is as important, or more important, in software development as technology. So much so that it is stated that “The major problems of our work are not so much technological as they are sociological”. Although many tend to say that the problem is “political” it is argued that it is more “sociological”.

One key reason the authors indicate is the reason for failures of projects is that we are trained to organize our solution space into modular pieces such as software routines, circuits or other units of work. While this is fine for software, we tend to carry for the same modularization with people and this leads to failure.

When managers realize that they have more “people worries” than “technical worries”, managers tend to lookout for a technical whizbang that promises to automate away part of the work, rather than trying to address the “people worry”. This is partly because one is schooled in “how to do the job” rather than on how to “manage the job”. This may not be true of the white collared MBA graduates, but they do not know “how to do the job”. It is important to know both (how to do and how to manage) to a reasonable extent.

It is stated that the IT people tend to think that they are in some kind of High-Tech business, whereas they need to accept that the only ones who are really in the High-Tech business are the researchers who made the fundamental breakthroughs in those areas and not us who use that technology.

We are in a situation where it requires us to have a lot of human communication. The better we communicate the more success we can meet and the worse we communicate the more the failures we will encounter. Despite this we tend to focus on the technical rather than on the human side of work, not because it is more important, but because it is easier to do so. To quote the example provided by the authors “Getting a new disk installed is positively trivial to figuring out why Horace is in a blue funk or why Susan is dissatisfied with the company after only a few months.” Human interactions are complicated and never very crisp and clean in their effects, but they matter more than any other aspect of work.

While many strategies and processes adopted in the manufacturing production work well for the IT industry as well there are many other strategies that are not suitable for the IT industry. The following have been quoted

The second chapter is about a wrong comparison between production and software development. In a manufacturing production environment it makes sense to:
1. Squeeze out error. Make the machine (human) run as smoothly as possible.
2. Take a hard line about people goofing on the job.
3. Treat workers as interchangeable pieces of machine. (Although it is not as easy as it is made out to be)
3. Optimize steady state. (Don’t even think of how the operation got up to speed, or what it would take to close it down)
4. Standardize procedures. Do everything by the book.
5. Eliminate experimentation – that’s what the folks at the headquarters are for.

Doing the above in a software development firm will be detrimental as it would dampen the spirits of the people and focus their attention away from the real problems at hand.

Instead the following approaches should be adopted
1. Quota for errors. Since software development is a thinking job it is likely that people will make mistakes occasionally and this should be pardoned, not punished. Fostering an atmosphere that does not allow for error simply makes people defensive and kills all creativite efforts.
2. Everybody needs to be encouraged to think and take decisions. All decisions cannot be dictated from the top and the lower rungs asked to just follow instructions. It is a sure shot recipe for failure. (This is a statement that was made before the advent of techniques like Kaizen. With Kaizen even the person on the lower most rung of the production shop floor can be expected to think and contribute to improved productivity.)
3. In software development it cannot be assumed that one person an be replaced by another. Every individual is different and it is important for the manager to understand the abilities and disabilities of the individual and use her accordingly.
4. A project in steady state is dead. There should be continous dynamism in the projects for it to be successful.
5. It is as important to think about the tasks as it is to do them. Sufficient time should be spent in analyzing on how a task should be accomplished so that it is be done well and not just done.

A lot of these are what is adopted by agilists.

The other big topic that is covered is provision for private space vs public space. While the book recommends provision for private space as opposed to public space, it appears this has been concluded based on study of workers who are involved in creative work and require the peace and quite and very limited interaction with others. It will not be necessary and actually be detrimental in scenario where a lot of interaction is required between the various stakeholders.

The ills of overtime, effect of the environment provided to the employees are discussed in detail.

Another beautiful section that I found discussed the how Christopher Alexandar espoused the essence of architecture. He has suggested that instead of master plan for the building meta-plan should be followed. The meta-plan will have three parts
1. A philosophy of piecemeal growth
2. A set of patterns or shared design principles governing growth
3. Local control of design by those that will occupy the space

Under the meta-plan, facilities evolve through a series of small steps into campuses and communities of related buildings. By respecting the shared principles, they retain a harmony of vision, but not a sameness. Like mature villages they begin to take on an evolved charm. This is what Alexandar calls “Organic Order”. This is further described as “This natural or organic order emerges when there is a perfect balance between the needs of the individual parts of the environment and the needs of the whole. In an organic environment, every place is unique and the different places also cooperate, with no parts left over, to create a global whole – a whole which can be identified by all who is part of it”. Alexandar quotes the example of how the colleges of Oxford St. Johns, Trinity and others share a similar plan of having an entrance on the main road and an opening to the river behind, but have their individualness.
Christopher Alexandar states that “The natural or organic order emerges when there is a perfect balance between the needs of the individual parts of the environment, and the needs of the whole. In an organic environment, every place is unique and different places also cooperate, with no parts left over, to create a global whole – a whole which can be identified by everyone who is a part of it.”
One cannot but wonder at the uncanny resemblance to the microservices pattern that is becoming prevalent in today’s software world.

Stressing the importance of people in the IT industry the book states “The final outcome of any effort is more a function of who does the work and not how the work is done. Yet modern management science pays almost no attention to hiring and keeping the right people. Any management course you’re likely to take barely gives lip service to the aspects”. This again harks back to the Agile principle of people over processes. The authors suggest these measures for success:
1. Get the right people.
2. Make them happy so that they don’t want to leave
3. Turn them loose

This is what is mentioned about leaders and leadership “While they sometimes set explicit directions, their main role is that of a catalyst, not a directory. They make it possible for the magic to happen.” It is argued that leadership can even be displayed by somebody who is not authorized by the organization. They just make things possible. It is argued that Leadership and Innovation are directly proportional, better the leadership more the innovation.

This is what the book has to say about “human capital” and how the Wall Street pressure leads companies to have a poor policy about managing this. It is argued maintenance of the “humans” is considered as an “Expense” rather than as an “Asset” in accounting terms. “There is probably no hope of changing the view that Wall Street takes of treating investment in people as an expense. But companies that play this game will suffer in the long run. The converse is also true: Companies that manage their investment sensibly will prosper in the long run. Companies of knowledge workers have to realize that it is their investment in human capital that matters most. The good ones already do.”

A section of book is devoted to how after having the right humans, a set of “jelled” teams are important for the success. Some suggestions for creating “jelled” teams are as follows:

1. Defensive Management: Do not be too defensive, be prepared to take risks.
2. Bureaucracy: Burdening the team with lots of paperwork.
3. Physical Separation: Keeping the team members in physically distant locations such that the chances of meeting is less is a big killer of teams.
4. Fragmentation of Time: Expecting the members to work in more than one project at a time.
5. The Quality-Reduced Product: A cost reduction in msot cases results in a reduction of quailty and most teams are asked to reduce the cost. The team ends up feeling bad about delivering a sub-quality product.
6. Phony Deadlines: Setting aggressive deadlines to pressurize the team only leads to negativity all around.
7. Clique Control: The upper management cannot ever jell as a team as each one wants exclusive hold over what they are doing.

The detrimental effect of overtime is stressed once again. Overtime means a few people end up working overtime while others are whiling away their time and this is a sure shot way of ensuring conflicted teams. It is also stressed that all the team needs to be involved in defining the goals and not just the upper management. Another strategy which would prevent teams from jelling is having competition within the company.

One very interesting discussion is around how people have resistance to any change. It is stated that it is given that most people will refuse to change for various reasons. The people can be put in the following buckets:
1. Blind Loyalty (Ask no questions, just change)
2. Believers but Questioners
a) Skeptics (“Show me”)
b) Passive Observers (“Whats in it for me”)
c) Opposed (“Fear of Change”)
d) Opposed (“Fear of Loss of Power”)
3. Militantly Opposed (Will Undermine and Destroy)
And the way to succeed in introducing a change is to win over questioning people to accept the change is by not challenging the old order, instead tactically getting them over.

The books ends a highlight on importance of keeping the team engaged in activities requiring them to exercise their intelligence in an IT organization.

A wonderful book for all to read.

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The book is set of 10 essays which are about the most enduring ideas on management from Harvard Business Review.

The first essay is about disruption by Clayton Chirstensen. Enough has been written about this person and his research on innovation. It is a repeat of the same. So if one has read his other books then this can be skipped.

The second essay is about how analytics can be used to compete better in the marker by Thomas H. Davenport. The essay is all about how different companies are leveraging data analysis to compete better.

The third essay about managing oneself by Peter F. Drucker. A wonderful essay to say the least. This was the best essay of the lot that is presented in this book. In the essay the author gives tips about how to manage one’s career so that one prospers without getting frustrated.
The first advice that the author offers is that one needs to figure out what is one’s strengths. He says that most people have a very wrong notion of what their strengths are and this is one of the reasons for frustrations in one’s career. The author says that the best way to learn about one’s strengths is by first setting goals to achieve and then to measure one’s progress and success against the set goal. This needs to be a constant process that one follows through one’s career.
With the feedback one should take the following steps:
First, concentrate on the strengths and ensure that one keeps producing results based on the strengths.
Second, work on improving the strengths so that one gets more and more out of the strengths.
Third, “discover where your intellectual arrogance is causing disabling ignorance and overcome it. Far too many people with great expertise in one area – are contemptuous of knowledge in other areas or believe that being bright is substitute for knowledge. First-rate engineers, for instance, take great pride in non knowing anything about people. Human being, they believe, are much too disorderly for the good engineering mind.” The author states that one needs to have a well rounded knowledge base to fully realize one’s potential. So he asks that one go and acquire skills and knowledge in areas where one is weak. At the same time the author also states that it is not necessary to take up activity in these areas where one is weak. One can stay away from taking responsibility in areas which are not one’s strengths.
It is further said that it is important to identify one’s bad habits and correct them. As an example he quotes good planner’s who do not follow their plan and so fail to deliver.
Another essential factor the author stresses upon is manners. Without good manners there is bound to be friction making it difficult for one to achieve one’s goals.

The second advice that the author gives is that one should be aware of “How does one perform or work?”. The author elaborates that it is important for one to know how one processes information. Does not process the information by reading, or hearing others discuss it? How does on learn? Does on learn by writing, or by listening to things being told to you. Answers to these questions need to be answered so that one can accordingly instruct and build people around one. If one is a listener then one needs people who can talk about various matters in one’s presence and offer their opinions, whereas if one is a reader then one will need these people to be writing up something for one to read about rather than listening to them.

The third advice that he offers is one must consider one’s values and try to stick to organizations whose values matches one’s own. If the values of the organization in which one works is very different from one’s own then it becomes difficult for one to continue in the organization and for the organization to continue one’s employment.

The fourth question that one needs to answer is where does one belong? Where can one’s contribution be the best. Which industry, which organization can be benefited the most with one’s skill and in what role can one benefit the community, organization the best? Depending on the answer to the above question one should manoeuvre oneself to a position where ones strengths are leveraged the best.

The fifth and last piece of advice that the essay has to give says that instead of contributing what one has been asked to contribute, ask oneself what should one contribute. Contribute in the area where one is confident and has expertise. It is almost follows from the fourth advice.

While it is important to know oneself, it is equally important to know the one’s around oneself and deal with the person according to the strength of the other person. This becomes important when dealing with managers. It is important for one to know the type of person one’s manager is and interact with him accordingly. This will be mutually beneficial.

The author’s advice to one’s in the knowledge industry is that one should state up front “This is what I am good it at. This is how I work. These are my values. This is the contribution I plan to concentrate on and the results I should be expected to deliver.”. If everyone in the knowledge industry to come up with such clear statements then the industry and its workers would benefit.

The last part of the essay speaks about the second half of one’s working life. The author says that while it is important to strive to be successful in one’s career, one is bound to hit the glass ceiling at some point much before the retirement age. This will mean lack of challenge and lack of motivation to continue along the same lines. Also it is likely that one would reach a state where one has more or less sufficient funds to see through one’s lifetime. At this stage, the author suggests, that one should be ready to start one’s second career. This career could be a more low profile, low return type of a career like a accountant in some community group, or an administrative job in a charity or a teaching job in an NGO or any such job which may not appear lucrative at the very beginning of one’s career. But, the author cautions, that this will be possible only if one has planned and prepared for this second career from earlier on. So if one wishes to join an NGO that teaches the under-privileged from the society then one should start associating with these NGOs from an early point in time. This will help one understand the workings of these organizations and would also help one understand what one can contribute to these organization and how.

Wish I had read this twenty-five years ago especially the one about the second career.

The Fourth essay is “What makes a leader” by Daniel Goleman. In the essay the author states that most organization tend to promote a highly intelligent and skilled executive to be the leader and the person fails. Mr. Goleman suggests that this is because of the lack of process in the organizations to identify the right person for the leadership role. He says that while technical knowledge (in the specific area) is one aspect that a leader should have, it is more important for a leader to have “Emotional Intelligence”. The author qualifies the following tests to identify the “Emotional Intelligence” of a person. First and foremost is “Self Awareness”. This means that the person should be aware of their strengths, weaknesses, drives, value and impact on others. The second aspect is “Self-Regulation”. This is ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods. This entails not screaming at a team that has botched up an operation and instead to sit with it and analyze what went wrong so that it could be fixed and avoided in the future. The third quality is “Motivation”. This is the ability of the person to persevere despite setbacks to achieve one’s goals. The fourth quality is “Empathy”. This is the ability to understand the others around him or her so that they build a better confidence amongst the one’s with whom they are working and are able to take a better decisions. The last quality is “Social Skills”. This is the ability of the person to manage relationships and to be able to get work done without forcing ones thoughts or ideas, but by being persuasive in the right way and getting things done.
The author also goes on to say that while one may not have a good Emotional Intelligence to begin with, one can improve upon this by soliciting feedback from others around one.
One wishes more of the leaders and one’s appointing these leaders read this up before taking up a leadership role or appointing leaders respectively.

The fifth essay is about “Putting Balance Scorecard to Work” by Robert S. Kaplan and David P. Norton. What I understood from this is that one of the most important aspects of making this work is the ability to quantitatively measure the outcome. This is possibly the key reason why this is not the right fit for the knowledge industries. First it is hard for the management to come out with a really Balanced Scorecard and then to make matters worse it is difficult to quantitatively measure the results in most scenarios.

The sixth essay is about “Innovation: The Classic Traps” by Rosabeth Moss Kanter. In this the author talks about how organizations go through cycles of “Innovations” which aligns with the management change cycles. Each new management generation wishes to come up with some great innovation. According to the author they fail because of the following reasons:
1. Strategy Mistakes: This involves rejecting opportunities because they appear too small. Going after revolutionary changes in a big way without considering the risks, to sticking to very minor changes. The author suggests a judicious mix, dictated by the market, would be a better strategy to succeed rather than a bias to one or the other of the options.
2. Process Mistakes: This involves adopting the existing processes to a new business. The author suggests there needs to be enough flexibility around processes as the process that worked for one may or may not work for another situation.
3. Structure Mistakes: If a company is started out to innovate in a field and the innovations from this organization is expected to flow back into the original company then the company should be structure too faraway from the main organization. Doing so will not benefit either organization. They need to have the right amount interaction while not stifling innovation.
4. Skills Mistakes: Not selecting the right set of people or a wrong set of leaders to lead the organization which is to innovate will also lead to a failure. It is important to select a team which has shown capability of real innovation and put a right leader to head them. Being successful when operating in a strictly process oriented organization does not mean that the person would succeed in an organization which is expected to innovate. One will need a different kind of person to succeed in this kind of an organization.

The seventh essay speaks about “Leading Change” by John P. Kotter. This essay summarizes why transformation efforts fail. The summary is as follows:
1. Not establishing a Great enough sense of urgency.
2. Not forming a Powerful enough Guiding coalition.
3. Lacking a Vision
4. Undercommunicating the Vision by a Factor of Ten
5. Not removing Obstacles to the New Vision
6. Not Systematically Planning for, and Creating, Short-Term Wins
7. Declaring Victory too Soon
8. Not Anchoring Changes in the Corporation’s Culture

The eight essays is “Marketing Myopia” by Theodore Levitt. In this the author wishes to stress that every industry at some point is a “growth industry” and all industries ride this wave and then slowly fall of this wave. It is not upto to the industry to reinvent itself so that it does not become irrelevant. For this it needs to expand its scope and rethink its strategy of marketing rationally.

In the ninth essay Micheal E. Porter answers the question “What is Strategy?”. In this the author argues that while “Operational effectiveness” is necessary it does not amount to strategy or at least not sufficient strategy. Strategy is something that would create a unique and valuable position for the organization, it is something that requires one to make trade-offs in competing-to choose what not to do, and it involves creating “fit” among a company’s various activities.

The tenth and the last essay is about “The Core Competence of the Corporation” by C. K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel. In this the authors stress on the fact that each organization has to identify its own “Core Competency” and more importantly the requirement/importance of this “Competency” for it to succeed in the market. Having a competency which will not help the organization address the needs of a market is a waste. The authors urge that it is important to grow this competency. At the same time they warn the organizations not to create “business units” with Chinese walls between them. This they say will encourage the “business units” to hide talent and thus reducing the benefit of such talent to the organization as a whole. And lastly they state that it is important to identify next-generation competencies so that the organization continues to remain relevant in the new markets.

The book Cuckold by Kiran Nagarkar is about Rana Sangha and his son who was married to Meera Bai. The son is portrayed as an atypical Rajput prince. In one place he is shown musing these thoughts.

“Its such an elementary rule. I wonder why almost nobody follows it. If you want to find out how a department is functioning or how the work is progressing on a project, go unannounced. It has nothing to do with catching the people with their pants down or with their hands on the till. It is simply that that is the only way you can see them as they are, normal people. Normally efficient or normally sloppy. Give them notice and they’ll get the red carpet and put on a big show. But if all you want is to feel important, call them over. It is less trouble; your managers or ministers will be only too happy to take the day off and doctor the facts efficiently and you will never have to deal with unpleasant or intractable problems ever again. Sycophants are king’s first line of defence. They protect him from the truth and build a fine mesh around him which filters out all information. Its not just that bad news stays out. Often good news and good people too are disallowed entry. Because what you hear and see is what they want you to hear and see. When the end comes and the chair is pulled away from under you, take heart, your free fall will be swift and irreversible.” 

He further muses “The problem, of course, is how to keep all your channels of information open without being overwhelmed by them. Is there any way to institutionalize sources of criticism? But even if there was it wouldn’t help much because human beings are so adept at ignoring any point of view or opinion we don’t care for. Nobody can help you keep your communication systems open. You have go to work at them yourself, reach out and most of all, listen.”
What a wonderful observation about management. Every word is true. Do we not see it happening around us? Why do we not take the suggestion offered and go unannounced and listen. The second part is very important “You have go to work at them yourself, reach out and most of all, listen.”. 
Expanding on the theme of listening
Listening does not come to humans easily. What with one’s egos, position, equation with so and so and what not. But unless we listen, hear with an open mind and listen to what the people are saying it is difficult to be successful as managers and as a result a successful company.
English a complex language with subtleties possibly not present in other languages. There is a big difference between hear and listen. When one hears the horn of a vehicle one only hears it, one does not act on it. When one listens to the horn of a vehicle, one understands and one acts on it. Similarly when one “hears-out” an associate, one only hears what is being told. When one listens to another associate, one understands and one acts on it. It is important to LISTEN to others while being ready to voice one’s opinions without fear. 
A beautiful article on interdependence.One hopes that the corporates and the people working in the corporates realize this.

Hope people realize the futility of rat race and join hands to achieve more and more and make life better and better both for the self and for the others.

There is a similar story of how the parts of the body revolted and each claimed superiority over others. The legs said that they are the most important because without them man cannot go any where. The hands claimed that they are the most important because without them man cannot do anything. The brain claimed that since it is the font of intelligence it should be considered the most important organ of the human. All laughed when the small intestine said that it was the most vital part in the human body.

So the small intestine stopped digesting for a few days and all the organs lost their ability to function properly. This made all the organs realize that no one part is any less important than the other and unless they all worked together they will be rendered useless and will not succeed.

In a similar fashion every department and every person has their importance and the Organization cannot function efficiently without cooperation across these departments and individuals.


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