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Posts Tagged ‘Decision’

Year 2030.

Polar icecaps had melted, oceans swelled. A deluge that would wipe out all of earth’s surface now appeared certain on the third day.

Flood

The politicians and the elected representatives of people demanded shelter in the deep underground bunkers provisioned for long stay during a nuclear holocaust.

The business men ordered their space rockets to be readied for a blast off.

The priests said it was just as in the scriptures and it was never too late to pray and ensure their place in the Heavens.

The stock-brokers advised his clients to sell off all their holdings and buy into real-estate firms as a huge upsurge was expected in construction activities once the waters subsided.

At a remote border post, the army sergeant called his downcast troops and said:

“We still have 72 hours.

Army 1

Let’s train ourselves to live under water.”

End

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Credits: newshopper.sulekha.com

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free clipart net Handshake

Jack and Mark are walking from religious service. Jack wonders whether it would be all right to smoke while praying.

Mark replies, “Why don’t you ask the Priest?”

So Jack goes up to the Priest and asks, “Father, may I smoke while I pray?”

The Priest replies, “No, my son, you may not! That’s utter disrespect to our religion.”

Jack goes back to his friend and tells him what the good Priest told him.

Mark says, “I’m not surprised. You asked the wrong question. Let me try.”

And so Mark goes up to the Priest and asks, “Father, may I pray while I smoke?”

To which the Priest eagerly replies, “By all means, my son, by all means. You can always pray whenever you want to.”

End

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Scene II:

Anon Presentation

The main accomplishment in Scene I was to wean the End User (EU) away from ‘reports and formats’ and get him to talk about the performance defining parameters and have the application compute them for him.

So when they assembled again a few days later, the Business Analyst (BA) and the End User (EU) had a ‘cheshire’ grin.

The report designed this time had all the right columns and filters for selection. Additionally Fuel Efficiency was computed and reported at the bottom.

The Consultant (C) checked if they agreed on how Fuel Efficiency was computed. While the definition was simple – the ratio of kilometers run upon fuel consumed –in reality the method for computing it was a little tricky and at best approximate. It was important to ensure this was understood clearly and unambiguously. The kilometers run had to be marked from one tank-fill to another and the efficiency computed over so many tank-fills. The period of computation was not delimited by a day or a week or any other time period. Over many tank-fills, the computation would have made little difference if it was delimited by tank-fills or by time-period, but not when the tank-fills were only a few in a week.  Also it was not always a full tank-fill. Sometimes they went in for a fill on sighting a filling station though the tank was not empty yet. This meant the amount of fuel filled had to be additionally captured and it could not be assumed always to be the capacity of the tank.

To their credit, this was clearly set out by the EU and well understood by the BA. No issues there.

‘Now, what do you do with this magic number on Fuel Efficiency?’ C asked the EU.

‘Well, I now I know if I have a problem or not.’

‘know’ was the proverbial red-rag to the C.

‘How do you know? Let me put it differently – how do you defend this number to your boss?’

‘I look at this number and look at the type of roads covered.And I know if it’s right or not.’

‘How does it work?’

‘It all depends – if the kilometers were run on highways, I expect a higher efficiency than if it were within a city. Similarly, if the vehicle is on a productive run, it is usually at a lower speed and hence at lower efficiency than in transit.’

‘So you look at the number and look at the composition of the run kilometers and take a call?’

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘Everybody – your boss and the supervisors in the field – they buy your call?’

‘Well…’

‘How about getting the system to apply the ‘judgment’ you presently make?’

‘If it can be done…’

‘All you need to do is to capture the daily break-up of kilometers run under those four heads: Intracity (Production and Transit) and Intercity (Production and Transit).’

‘That’s possible, though it may not be accurate. We can get the vehicle crew to log the daily kilometers in that manner. That’s not too much additional effort for them.’

‘Now, let us get the break-up in and compute the Fuel Efficiency for each of those four categories separately. You’ll then see clearly the performance and the problem if there’s one.’

End of Scene II

Clearly this was more helpful in getting nearer to the problem area. The trick was to ask the question ‘What would you do with the output?’ repeatedly and get as close as possible to the real performance or the problem. And not stop half-way and get the EU to cover the rest in his head.

In many instances the EU is shortchanged in a manner he is not even aware of.  He is required to further process the data given to him. Essentially the output is not directly usable.

It would be interesting to do this simple check on any system – how many of the outputs are directly usable, immediately supporting decisions made? It may reveal pockets of IT inefficiencies, besides throwing up redundancies and inconsistencies in the output.

For reasons of clarity a minor detail was missed out in the above scene: the EU pointed out while a break-up of daily kilometers run is a simple matter, the fuel consumption in the day could not be broken up under those heads. And, hence, Fuel Efficiency could not be computed under the different categories.  For a moment C’s efforts to push for greater proximity to the performance appeared stymied. He suggested: start with reasonable targets for Fuel Efficiency for each of the four heads. For the actual kilometers run over several tank-fills, compute the weighted Fuel Efficiency, applying the targets to these kilometers. Now the weighted target Fuel Efficiency is available for comparison to the actual Fuel Efficiency realized.

End

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Credit: openclipart.com (Anonymous)

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Scene I:

Anon Reunion

The Consultant (C) was charged with the job of providing an extra level of oversight to the projects under execution. He had called a meeting of the End User (EU) and the Techie doubling up as a Business Analyst (BA) to inquire about the status of the project.

The company operated a fleet of vehicles that traversed the length and breadth of the country. The project was to develop a software application: ‘Daily Fleet Movement (DFM)’. This was conceived as the first of the several modules they needed to operate and manage the fleet.

The BA reported on the status: The EU and he had agreed on a set of reports – the primary output of the system (screen based or in print) to be generated on the vehicle and the driver with facilities for filtering on dates, towns, etc. He further stressed, in C’s presence, on the finality of the report content and formats arrived at after lengthy iterations. This, he believed, was necessary especially in view of an earlier experience where the project dragged on inordinately with changes to the output coming from the EU right up to the final stages of the project. The solemnity that BA was imposing on the occasion made the EU nervous about what he was signing off. So he had questions and concerns on what he would get to see from the application and if the same debilitating ‘holes’ and the painful iterations of the earlier experience would recur this time too.

While this discussion on the formats and the flexibility in retrieval was talked about, C jumped in with a question for the EU:

‘Well, you certainly need these reports and you’ll get them.  But I’ve a concern.’

Both EU and BA stopped in their tracks and looked at C.

‘I’m sure you’re tracking and managing the operations on the basis of a few parameters?’

‘Most certainly so, how else would one go about?’ The EU didn’t say it, his body spoke.

‘How come these don’t get mentioned in your discussion?’

‘Not right. You heard us talk about the ‘Vehicle Usage Report’, the ‘Fuel Efficiency Report’

‘Do you realize you’re asking for Vehicle Usage Report and our friend here is giving you a big daily log of which vehicle plied where? Exactly what you’re asking for. While the name of the report is comforting, what would you do with it?’

‘What’s wrong with it? I’ve always got one compiled. I can find out, for instance, how many kilometers did a vehicle cover in a day.’

‘So you’ll find out, I’m suresomehow from this log. Though I don’t know how. Now don’t you want the software to compute and report the same for your ready use instead of you ‘finding out’?’

C turned to the BA: ‘Just as I suspected. More often than not, the output generated by an application stops short of what a EU must have. And the EU fills up the gap by some means, sometimes even erroneously, watering down the benefits of automation. He doesn’t know to ask. If that’s not short-changing the EU…’

And to the EU: ‘The few parameters that you need for tracking and managing the operations are called Key Performance Indicators (KPI’s)’

Again the look of ‘What’s wrong with him?’

‘My submission is: You tell the BA you need these KPI’s to be computed and reported. Let him start from there and figure out how they’re computed and how could they be presented for effective communication. You don’t tell him: ‘These are the reports I need, here are the formats, now can you get on with it? And you don’t ‘find out’

The BA and the EU agreed to take up one KPI – Fuel Efficiency – and adopt this approach to design the report afresh from first principles.

End of Scene I

Not to be laughed off. Many sessions of requirements gathering proceed along the above lines, especially in smaller and not-so-IT-savvy shops. Two common reasons: a) The EU is very assertive and/or b) The BA lacks the necessary skills to set the right start for the discussion and take it to conclusion. It is a misconception that a techie or a UX designer with his wireframes is adequate to tease out the business requirements.

So what we have nett nett is the patient telling the doctor: ‘I know what ails me, Doc, give me these pills.’

The Scene II gets even more interesting when they meet again to apprise C on the output they had designed to report on Fuel Efficiency. Once the approach was clear, now arriving at a design was a pretty straight forward exercise.  Right?

Please wait for Scene ii to appear where C continues his review of the design presented to him, making a point or two of far-reaching impact.

End

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The company was supplying to Indian banks in large numbers automatic ledger posting machines. These were the baby-steps banks took to automate their operations. These machines were imported from GDR under rupee trade, their unique feature: the ability to print on extra-wide ledger forms.

As it happens, the CP/M based machines with 8-inch floppy and software appeared on the scene offering lot more features and flexibility. In a short time, the mechanical machines were swept away from the scene delayed only by the resistance of the employees to the introduction of computer systems. A classic case of how the juggernaut of technology and innovation rolls on crushing what comes in the way of larger benefit of the society – a drama played again and again so frequently in recent times.

The unfortunate downside was the fleet of technicians charged with maintaining the vast installed base of these machines in the field was rendered redundant over the period of phasing out.

Things came to a head where the problem of what to do with these technicians could no longer be ignored. The elephant was in the room, everyone agreed.

A meeting of the department heads was called to resolve the tangle. The participants included representatives from other departments too, not concerned with the banking activities with the purpose of finding viable alternatives. The kick-off was an introductory brief from the Man at the head of the table followed by the head of banking operations presenting the current scene and the issues thrown up. When he was done, as was customary, the discussion was thrown open to the participants.

The executives quizzed the head of banking on the profile of these guys in the cross-hair, their skills, the training programs they had undergone, their on-the-job performance, work-ethics, team dynamics, etc. etc. What emerged was these guys were middle-aged technicians who knew their job and very little else. And some were active unionists.

As the enquiries subsided, one by one the participants fell silent and finally a graveyard silence prevailed in the room.

The Man at the head of the table went about in right earnest drawing them out on possible alternatives of profitably redeploying these unfortunate men in their operations.

Given the profile they saw no ready use for these guys in their operations. He was pushed back on every advance he made. Never mind he was the big boss – in fact, the biggest boss in the company owning a large part of it too. Stonewalling was complete with ‘In this era of electronic instruments and devices, you tell us what do we do with guys good with screw-drivers and spanners? They seem to be well beyond retraining. Well, if you insistyou’re the boss.’

The Man recognized their concerns about taking on some ‘dead-weights’. But he saw a bigger call. And not one to give up easily.

Clap

He closed the meeting with a directive to meet again and this time hoping for more helpful solutions coming from his executives.

The Man certainly did not know he was being observed closely by a youngster who happened to be in the room on that occasion. His honest efforts to protect the interests of those low-placed hapless guys, a small number of them, made an indelible impression and shaped the values held by the youngster in all his life.

I was not privy to whatever happened in subsequent rounds.

And the Man – Suneel M Advani, SMA as he is fondly addressed, at the helm of Blue Star Ltd, a source of constant inspiration.

On many more occasions, I had the privilege of observing this charismatic personality from close quarters, revealing admirable facets of strength, character and vision – subject for future posts.

End

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Clearly the days of trusting the manager are long gone; today the kid is likely to turn to his peer at the next desk more than his manager. This is unfortunate, but true. I was particularly lucky to work with bosses who on occasions exhibited some extraordinary responses no doubt reflecting their innate disposition. They may not have been exactly all-rounded and all-time angels or supermen, well, so what? This post and more to follow are in reminiscence of those memorable occasions.

This young engineer was a specialist supporting HP’s Board Test systems, GP-IB based instrumentation systems, etc. A man of few words, he was a serious hard-working engineer who knew his ‘onions’, liked and respected by all. One fine day, he dropped the ‘bomb’ – he submitted his resignation. There were no portents to alert us to what he was planning. He wanted to leave us and start on his own. It was widely believed rightly or wrongly – including me – that he was most ill-suited for venturing on his own. The broad concern was for him and his prospects rather than on the difficult task of finding a replacement for him. His boss tried to dissuade him to no avail, so did many other seniors in the organization. It fell on me too to make an attempt as, owing to recent restructuring, I was responsible for his activities through his boss. So I did.

I flew to Bangalore for the sole purpose and I expressed a wish to meet up with him and his wife together.

I knew many a time it is the wife who needs to be talked to. He graciously invited me home. Over dinner I quickly realized the decision to quit was his and the poor girl had simply given in. I made an honest effort to point out the upside of staying back and the downside of leaving. At the end, he promised he would think about it and escorted me all the way out to find a cab back to the hotel. I returned to Mumbai not sure of the outcome.

As feared by all, he did not go back on his decision. The separation was now a certainty, not widely known in the organization.

There was a month of notice for preparing a replacement and handing over the unfinished business. The mutually negotiated bye-date passed. On the day plus one, tragedy struck. Uncertainties of life. The young entrepreneur-to-be was on a trip to Tiruppathi for an auspicious beginning of his venture when his car met with an accident on the way, hitting a culvert. The husband and wife were seriously injured. Admitted to the hospital, they never recovered – within a couple of days they succumbed to the injuries in quick succession. The baby survived miraculously – the mother unable to extricate herself from the wreckage had thrown him from her lap out of harm’s way.

Back in Mumbai we were all shocked at the turn of events. The grand-parents arrived from Orissa to take charge. From the organization and personally we did all that was possible – at least that’s what we thought then – to be of help to them to complete the formalities and the sad rituals that followed.

This man – the protagonist of this post, the big honcho of the entire operations, did something more than ‘possible’. He disclosed the diseased engineer had personally contacted him subsequently and withdrawn his resignation!! And it was official.

Presto! The baby was now entitled to all the organizational benefits accruing to the dependent of an employee on rolls upon his death.

While the details were never known precisely – and I’m sure more people were as much a part of this decision, the rank and file chose to hold this view fast – so was born another legend around this man, Shashi Ullal. Even if this wasn’t the exact truth, it can’t be far behind. After all such is the stuff legends are made of.

It’s little wonder Shashi was and continues to be held in high esteem and a source of inspiration to all whose lives he touched. Do they make bosses like him anymore?

My years with Shashi were not many. I’m sure he has a huge fan club out there boasting longer association and they would bring to light more exemplary episodes on him.

While on Shashi, let’s not forget the unsung hero in this episode – it was the organization that routinely fostered these values, beginning from the top.

End
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PS: Nudging eighty’s, Shashi is still professionally active, growing younger by the years! He can be found in LinkedIn.

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(contd.)

I call up the SP later and say to him: ‘You’re a senior guy and you have been with us for some years now. You have, on past occasions, taken up work, at personal inconvenience. You also know how important this assignment is to us. If I tell you to continue working, you would regard me as also insensitive. If I tell you to pack up and return, it means upset customer and possible loss of business. So I trust you to take the call yourself. And I will back your decision.’

PS: The SPM decided to return from the assignment prematurely, he did undergo a minor surgery that put him out of action for a few weeks; he appreciated that we stood by him. He went on to do well with us for a few more years. The customer did hit the ceiling initially; we explained the compulsions and he saw us going to great lengths to protect his interests and he continued to stay with us thereafter. 

These are tough times for a manager to take decisions. Trusting (a good) employee’s judgement in such adverse conditions is a kind of employee empowerment of high-order that corporates often shout about. A strong message such as this willingness to bite the bullet has enormous pay-back. Nevretheless, the manager must exercise due-diligence and be seen to be in firm control of the situation right thru. And he must quickly resolve in a way that takes into account divergent interests. If one thinks hard enough, numerous ‘gray’ solutions would pop up between the ‘will’ and the ‘won’t’ that the two parties in conflict could be persuaded to accept. Or, there are ways to soften the ‘will’ or the ‘won’t’. In any case, time is the essence; the more the situation festers the more difficult becomes the acceptance of a middle ground. 

Did I put the employee’s interest ahead of my customer’s interest, against the credo of a service provider? No, I was bringing back alignment of the two stake-holder interests as much as the situation would allow, still swearing by the same credo.

(concluded)

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