Wednesday 21 October 2009

Book Review: How the Mighty Fall

I am big fan of Jim Collins; I became one after reading his book, "Good to Great". I have also read his another book, "Built to Last". So when I came to know that his recent book has come to market, I immediately grabbed its copy.

In his preface, Jim Collins has mentioned that he had considered this topic more for an article than for a book. Right now it has come out as a lengthy article published in book form. It is a small book with a little more than 200 pocket-sized pages to read. Nevertheless, the content presented in this book is quite powerful and thought-provoking. In line with Jim Collin's style, the content is backed by 4-years long research that involved comparative study of failed companies in contrast to the companies that attained and/or sustained exceptional results during the same era.

The book describes a model consisting of five stages of decline, through which great companies go before becoming irrelevant. The great companies enter first stage named as "Hubris Born of Success" largely due to their arrogant neglect of their primary business and because rhetoric of success (what) replaces understanding and insights (why). The second stage, called as "Undisciplined Pursuit of More" happens largely due to unsustainable quest for growth, declining proportion of right people in key seats and problematic succession of power. Companies enter third stage of "Denial of Risk and Peril" as they make big bets in the face of mounting evidence to the contrary and as they indulge in externalizing blames and obsessive reorganizations. Stage 4 of "Grasping for Salvation" can be recognized with markers such as series of silver bullets and initial upswing followed by disappointments. The final stage of "Capitulation to Irrelevance or Death" is reached when company either gives up the fight or run out of cash.

The book makes certain statements, which are backed by the research but are not so much intuitive. Let me list those statements as IMHO they are the real learning from the book:

  • Whether you prevail or fail, endure or die, depends more on what you do yourself than on what the world does to you.
  • Great companies can stumble, badly, and recover.
  • Leaders who fail the process of succession set their enterprises on a path to decline.
  • The signature of mediocrity is not unwillingness to change. The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency.
  • Most "overnight success" stories are about twenty years in the making.
  • Great companies can fall even if engaged in energetic and ambitious activity, thereby undermining the hypothesis that all great companies fall because they come complacent.
  • Right people for key seats show following six characteristics: they fit with company's core values; they don't need to be tightly managed; they understand that they do not have jobs but have responsibilities; they fulfill their commitments; they are passionate about the company and its work; they display "window and mirror" maturity (credit others for success, hold self responsible for failures).

The book also mentions the Packard's Law, which states that no company can consistently grow revenues faster than its ability to get enough of the right people to implement that growth and still become a great company.

In all, the book is an excellent reading for those who love studying management.

Thursday 1 October 2009

Responsibilities of Enterprise Architect

It's very difficult to answer what are the responsibilities of Enterprise Architect? It's not because nobody has an answer to it. It's the other extreme. There are too many answers to this question. Let me too join the club of the preachers to describe the responsibilities and the performance measurement criteria for Enterprise Architect. I guess they would be useful for hiring enterprise architects!

IMHO, Enterprise Architect has following responsibilities:

  • Analyze the interrelationships among business processes, information, application systems, and underlying infrastructure technology and maintain their documentation in EA repository.
  • Develop technology strategy and standards in consultation with technology SMEs and business leaders.
  • Monitor adherence to the technology strategy and standards using Architecture Review.
  • Introduce new technology to enable new business capabilities in consultation with technology SMEs and business leaders.

And the performance measurement criteria could be one or more of the following with case-specific targets:

  • Cost saving
  • Reduction in IT project execution time
  • Reduction in IT risk
  • Increase in consistency of project delivery
  • Enabling business innovations

I will keep on updating both these lists as and when I acquire new learning!

Thursday 10 September 2009

Will the hype for cloud computing continue forever?

There is more than enough hype in the media about cloud computing. It seems like cloud computing is being positioned as the ultimate delivery model for providing IT solutions to the business. While there is some truth in this hype, there are many fallacies too. Let me take a shot at this hype in this blog!

Simply put, cloud computing is the computing paradigm in which computing resources such as software, infrastructure (processing power, storage etc) and the deployment platform (e.g. Microsoft .NET platform) are provided as services over internet. That means the service consumer organizations do not own any of these resources. They consume these resources and pay as per their usage. These two attributes differentiate the cloud computing from the traditional computing. In traditional computing, the organizations own the computing resources and incur expenditure regardless of the usage.

Putting in economic terms, cloud computing helps organizations incur only operational expenditure instead of capital expenditure. That’s the great news for the consumer organizations as in current economic climate it would be difficult to get the capital expenditure sanctioned. Also since the payment is tied to the usage, the consumer organizations can both upscale or downscale their usage without worrying about sunk cost, as there is none.

Having said so, it’s not so great situation for service providers. Firstly, they cannot lock in their customers and can’t expect any annuity business in terms of annual maintenance payments. Secondly, they need to provision for scalable service delivery, which is an expensive proposition in spite of use of technologies such as virtualization. Lastly, the payback period for their capital expenditure is long as they are not paid in lump-sum but in small installments over a period of time.
Having said so, one would wonder why there are so many companies providing cloud computing services. The answer is simple! In today’s economic climate, not many organizations are willing to spend money as capital expenditure and perhaps the only way to survive is to get paid in proportion of the services delivered. In other words, this is buyers market so the sellers will need to bend backwards to make money.

Does it mean the cloud computing phenomenon will disappear once the economy accelerates? Not really! The hype will surely come down but there will be some companies that have betted heavily and will continue to embrace this paradigm. The opportunistic companies, who have now jumped on the bandwagon, will scale down (or close!) their cloud computing services and increase their emphasis on the traditional computing delivery model. In other words, the traditional computing will continue but will have the companion in the form of cloud computing! The consumer organization will use both the paradigms in future and there will be less number of companies calling themselves as cloud computing companies!

Wednesday 1 July 2009

Book Review: Leading People

Leading People is part of Pocket Mentor series from Harvard Business School Press. Written by Lloyd Baird, this book provides essential theory, checklists and annotated list of learning resources in less than 100 pages.

The book classifies effective leaders as charismatic leaders, transformational leaders and pragmatic leaders; each one of these types is useful in certain scenario and not in others. For acquiring leadership skills, it provides suggestions such as "learn from experience" and "find a true mentor". It lists six leadership styles, viz. coercive, authoritative, affiliative, democratic, pacesetting and coaching along with their characteristics, usefulness and weaknesses.

The book provides following tools for leading people:

  • Self-evaluation checklist on characteristics of effective leadership
  • Worksheet for crafting and maintaining the vision
  • Checklist for evaluating ability to establish credibility
  • Worksheet for tracking motivation level of staff and allies

The list of learning resources is quite long and the comments provided for each item helps setting the expectations. In all, this book can be counted as a high-quality primer on the topic of leadership.

Monday 22 June 2009

Book Review: the say it with charts complete toolkit


There are very few books that you find, which teach you so much in short time. This book is one of them. Written by Gene Zelazny, this book offers definitive advice on how to communicate your message using charts. Gene is the Director of Visual Communications at McKinsey & Company. That fact itself establishes the credibility of the book even before you start reading it. But it is only after reading the book; you find it as a real treasure. Many thanks to the author for sharing his wisdom! I not only read the book, I "experienced" it, thanks to the writing style of the author and the inclusion of the practice sections in the book.
The book is divided into four sections. First section describes the process of moving from data to chart form. This process consists of three steps: determine your message, identify the comparison and select the chart form. The message and not the data that determines the chart form, hence determining the message is the first step in the process. Once the message is determined, it leads to one of following five basic types of comparison:
  1. Component: Percentage of a total
  2. Item: Ranking of items
  3. Time Series: Changes over time
  4. Frequency Distribution: Items within ranges
  5. Correlation: Relationship between variables
For third step, the author has suggested that following chart forms should generally be used for each of the types of comparison:
  1. Component: Pie
  2. Item: Bar
  3. Time Series: Column and Line
  4. Frequency Distribution: Column and Line
  5. Correlation: Bar and Dot Chart
The author has then discussed each of the comparison types and has illustrated how these chart types can be used. The first section concludes with two work projects that help reinforce the concepts presented in this section.
The second section consists of 80 charts, organized around five comparison types. They are presented in increasing order of complexity ranging from, say, one pie per chart to multiple pies. While charts are focus of first two sections, third section presents concept visuals and visual metaphors. The concept visuals consist of abstract geometrical shapes such as arrows, circles and triangles. The visual metaphors, on other hand, include everyday objects such as puzzles, mazes and ladders. The author calls these visuals as solutions in search of a problem. His advice is to use this section as a portfolio of thought starters. These visuals are available as EMF files on the CD accompanying the book.
The fourth and last section of the book is what you would love the most. Aptly titled as "Play it with charts", it provides the reader a practice ground for practicing whatever is learnt till then. It provides a series of business charts, with author's solution on next page. While it is tempting to flip the page to see the author's solution, the authors suggests the reader to first try himself/herself the solution before looking at author's solution. This exercise helps immensely to reinforce the lessons learnt.
In all, it is a must-read for any business executive or consultant! It's a great investment of time and money, which will provide enriching dividends over a long period of time.

Workshop on Becoming a Consultant

Recently I attended half-day training workshop on becoming a consultant. In this workshop, among various things, I learnt the Consulting Process consisting of five sequential phases.

  1. Entry & Contracting
  2. Discovery & Data Collection
  3. Feedback and decision to act
  4. Engagement and implementation
  5. Extension, Recycle and Termination

The consultant enters the first phase with information of client, sales and current trends. This phase involves negotiating wants, coping with mixed motivations and surfacing concerns about exposure and loss of control. The consultant needs information seeking, problem solving, critical thinking, questioning and negotiation skills in this phase. The tools that the consultant can call upon include MECE, argument mapping, critical questions and funneling. The ultimate outcome of this phase is a contract.

Second phase begins with the contract and initial hypothesis. The consultant executes this phase with questioning, observation, listening and analysis skills. Conducting interviews, MECE and scenario planning are the tools that consultant uses to come out with data analysis, problem statement, solution and recommendation.

Beginning with the outcome of second phase, third phase involves funneling data and managing feedback meeting with six hat technique, brainstorming and facilitation tools. The consultant uses the skills such as data analysis, creative thinking, decision-making and managing emotions. The deliverables of this phase include final recommendation, signoff on actions and plan.

Fourth phase involves aspects such as 'engagement over mandate & persuasion', 'design more participation than presentation', 'encourage difficult public exchanges', 'put real choice on the table', 'change the conversation to change the culture', 'pay attention to place' etc. The consultant would need skills such as involving others, communication, assertiveness, influencing and conflict management to deliver task completion report. The consultant can use tools such as influencing model and minto pyramid principle.

The final phase results into completion report, cheque (!) and further work plan if needed. It includes aspects such as completion review, further recommendation and separation. The consultant would need skills such as strategic thinking, being objective, presentation and relationships management and can make use of tools such as review and feedback gathering.

Thursday 18 June 2009

Book Review: A Better India A Better World

"A Better India A Better World" is a book written by Infosys co-founder N R Narayana Murthy. It's a collection of his speeches delivered over recent years, to different kinds of audience across the globe.

The book has 38 speeches classified into 10 parts such as Address to Students, Values, Leadership Challenges, Entrepreneurship and globalization. While quite a few things repeat, these speeches are fairly exclusive in communicating the thoughts and ideas. The Introduction written by author is also an excellent piece of work.

I would suggest reading this book to get motivated for achieving your own lofty dreams with hard work and high moral sense.

Saturday 30 May 2009

Adobe ConnectNow

Today I signed up for Adobe ConnectNow service. Adobe ConnectNow is a free web conferencing solution, which can be used by up to three participants (including host). It allows a permanent meeting room to each signed-in user. One can invite others, who are not signed up for this service, to join the online meetings.

I have not yet started to use this service but I guess I will find it useful when I will be travelling. I will post the feedback once I start using this service.

Adobe ConnectNow is one of the free hosted services offered at adobe.com. Other services include collaborative online word processor (Adobe Buzzword), document and file sharing and online PDF creation. I plan to explore these services in days to come.


 


 

Sunday 26 April 2009

MIT Center for Collective Intelligence

While surfing, I stumbled upon the web site of MIT Center for Collective Intelligence. Launched on October 13, 2006, it focuses on answering one key research question: How can people and computers be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any individual, group, or computer has ever done before?

It’s indeed an interesting question to investigate. Prof Thomas W. Malone, who is director of this center, has mentioned in his remarks at the official launch that the center will conduct three types of research: case studies, new examples, and systematic experiments, in order to answer this question. The center has published many working papers, which I am planning to read carefully in my next visit to the site.

Million Dollar Consulting

I just finished reading the book titled "Million Dollar Consulting Toolkit" by Alan Weiss. Though I have read quite a few books on consulting, I found this book to be different due to its hands-on approach. It is most useful for those consultants who are working solo but can also be used by consultants working in big consulting practices.

Alan Weiss has built a million dollar consulting practice, as a solo and in this book he has shared everything, right from tips to templates, in this book. When I started reading this book, I was puzzled to see so much nitty-gritty details. But then I found that to be its strength. The book provides field-level guidance in following areas:

  • Office and Practice Management
  • Sales & Marketing
  • Self-Development
  • Travel (here you will find a wealth of tips for business travel)
  • Project Delivery ( a good number of checklists are here)
  • Forms (templates for invoice, expense reimbursement etc, more useful in USA context though can be modified to suit local conditions)
  • Financials
  • Legal (again USA-specific details though can be adapted to local conditions)
  • Advanced marketing (covers publishing, speaking, newsletter, referrals and repeat business)

A must-read for the one who is planning to start as a solo consultant!

Measuring the Impact of Electronic Data Management (EDM) on Information Worker Productivity

I just now finished reading a research brief from MIT Center for Digital Business on measuring the Impact of Electronic Data Management (EDM) on Information Worker Productivity. Authored by Sumit Bhansali and Prof Erik Brynjolfsson from MIT Sloan, this research brief has reported the findings from their project, in which they studied the effects of digitizing work on information workers' time-use and performance at a large insurance firm.

The authors used four complementary data sources:

  1. Extensive on-site observation (of 4 managers) and interviews (17 pre-EDM interviews and 20 post-EDM interviews)
  2. Detailed time use records at three different time points (one pre-EDM and two post-EDM)
  3. Office-wide surveys (one pre-EDM and one post-EDM)
  4. Accounting data on multiple intermediate and final performance metrics such as current year closure rate, previous year closure rate, retention rate, YTD loss leakage and YTD average amount per claim on physical therapy cost and chiropractor care cost.

Some of the important findings reported are as follows:

  • EDM changed task composition at the individual level. EDM led to a significant decline in the substitutable routine labor input and an increase in non-routine cognitive labor input at the information worker level.
  • EDM caused the "IT-enabled slack", which allowed information workers to spend more time on value-adding communication activities as well for more personal time relaxing and resting at work or at home (less overtime).
  • Post-EDM, both the quantity and quality of routine informational inputs significantly increased, which in turn increased the productivity and performance of workers performing non-routine tasks that demanded those inputs.
  • Introduction of EDM got associated with the positive effects on the performance metrics.

We all know that introduction of new technologies such as EDM improves employee productivities. Such research projects help establish this proposition with systematic evidence and can help (perhaps!) establish the business case for New Technology Introduction (NTI).

InnoCentive

Today during internet surfing, I stumbled upon web site of InnoCentive Inc and got to know about this interesting venture.

Founded in 2001, InnoCentive has built up a web-based marketplace, where organizations (called as Seekers) submit challenges for individuals (called as Solvers) to solve for financial awards along with professional recognition. InnoCentive's Seekers include commercial, government and non-profit organizations such as Procter & Gamble, Avery Dennison, Pendulum, Eli Lilly and Company, Janssen, Solvay, GlobalGiving and The Rockefeller Foundation. The company claims to have 172,000 registered solvers from 175 countries. Interestingly, till April 7, 2009, $4.1 million has been awarded for 472 solutions. Some noteworthy solutions are as follows:

  • In November 2007, the Oil Spill Recovery Institute (OSRI) awarded $20,000 to John Davis for his creative solution for a challenge related to oil spill recovery issues.
  • An electrical engineer from New Zealand solved the Challenge to create a dual-purpose solar light to serve as both a lamp and a flashlight to be used in African villages and other areas of the world without electricity. The seeker, SunNight Solar in this case, awarded $20,000 to the solver in March 2008.
  • In late 2007, the TB Alliance, a not-for-profit organization, received solution from two solvers for a Challenge seeking a theoretical solution to simplify the manufacturing process of a current drug compound.

There are four types of challenges that Seeker can post:

  1. An InnoCentive Ideation Challenge is a broad question formulated to obtain access to new ideas. It's like global brainstorm for producing a breakthrough idea. The submissions are typically about two written pages.
  2. An InnoCentive Theoretical Challenge contains detailed solution requirements that Solvers must fulfill in their responses. A solution to a Theoretical Challenge should solidify the Solver's concept with detailed descriptions, specifications and requirements necessary to bringing a good idea closer to becoming an actual product or service.
  3. An InnoCentive RTP (Reduction to Practice) Challenge requires that the Solver submit a validated solution, either in the form of original data or a physical sample.
  4. An InnoCentive eRFP Challenge is a request for a partner or supplier to provide materials or expertise to help solve a business challenge.

The company has provided detailed instructions about IPR requirements for each of these types of challenges. The company earns its revenue from Seekers who pay a fee to post Challenges and, in some cases, also pay a commission on the amount awarded. InnoCentive does not charge Solvers to view Challenges and submit solutions. It also offers to R&D organization its product called InnoCentive@Work, which is a customizable internal web-based community platform.

With its 32 employees and venture funding of $16 million, InnoCentive Inc seems to be a company, which can't be ignored in current innovation-centric global business environment.

Activity Based Performance Measurement (ABPM)

While surfing, I stumbled upon the slides presented during MIT Data Center Workshop on May 20, 2005 by Robert Laubacher of MIT Sloan. The topic is Activity Based Performance Measurement (ABPM). I found this topic interesting and hence made further search and browsing to make following notes:

ABPM can be used to measure value created by new technology or management intervention. It can assess business performance at the activity level and then aggregate these fine-grained metrics upward to the business unit and firm level. ABPM is based on two insights:

  1. Calculating the costs of an activity is a matter of decomposing it into constituent parts, determining the cost of each part, and aggregating those costs. The benefits of an activity usually arise from how it affects other activities in the value chain. For example, quality programs reduce product defects and so reduce costs associated with factory rework and staffing customer service units. Higher quality can also increase future sales, due to greater customer satisfaction and enhanced firm reputation.
  2. There are common patterns in the types of benefits associated with activities that have similar underlying characteristics. For example, checking the quantity of goods is an activity that takes place at many junctures in the retail supply chain. Quantity checks of this sort occur at the receiving dock of the manufacturer's warehouse, when shipments arrive from the factory; at the manufacturer's loading dock, when shipments are placed on trucks for transportation to the retailer; at the retailer's distribution center, when the truck arrives; and so on, all the way to the point where the consumer makes a store purchase, and the clerk checks the quantity of each item in the shopper's cart.

Using ABPM to assess the impact of a new technology like RFID involves four primary steps:

  1. Develop potential post-implementation scenarios
  2. Identify activities affected by the new technology
  3. Map the activities with vs. without the new technology
  4. Measure benefits and costs by comparing differences in outcomes of pre- vs. post-implementation activities

There are two types of benefits: localized vs. distant benefits. The benefits tied directly to the activities affected by new technology are localized benefits. Other benefits, by contrast, involve connections between activities directly affected and activities that occur within other units of the firm or even within outside firms. The distinction between localized and distant benefits is important because it shapes the extent to which a firm or business unit implementing new technology has direct control over achieving the full benefits of the technology. When most of the benefits are localized, the group implementing the new technology has a high degree of control over whether or not it achieves the benefits. But when many of the benefits are of the distant kind, the implementing group must rely on other business units or supply chain partners to achieve the full potential of new technology.

Though I do not feel I got the full understanding of ABPM, the insights and the other details associated with ABPM are nevertheless useful!

Thursday 2 April 2009

Microsoft Office Project Portfolio Server 2007

Today I attended a brief training of Microsoft Office Project Portfolio Server (MOPPS) 2007. MOPPS 2007 is part of Microsoft's Enterprise Project Management suite, which also includes Microsoft Office Project Server. It allows creation of a project portfolio, including workflows, hosted centrally, so that the information is available throughout the enterprise, even from a browser (as per Wikipedia entry).

As I understood, the product provides two major modules: builder and optimizer. The scope of training session included only builder module, which is all about maintaining data about projects and resources. Obviously, this data maintenance can be configured to be very systematic hence can become quite useful for gaining visibility into project portfolio. The software allows grouping the projects as per programs, portfolios and organization units. It supports workflow feature, which allows move the project across the stages such as RC&BRD, Reject/Hold, Imp/Dev. The stages are specific to the project class such as application maintenance and application development. The software allows configuring which data fields (grouped as tabs) become editable or read-only or invisible depending on the current stage of the project. That makes the data collection quite disciplined. The examples of groups of data fields include budget cost, benefit estimation, strategic impact, Risk, schedule, cost tracking and document management. Also there is an audit trail, which captures all the user actions for possible review later.

The trainer also showed a feature called dashboard, which as name implies, can show the selective attributes (mainly iconic attributes) of selective projects. There is a similar feature called scorecard, which can show selective attributes of all projects. This scorecard, which is part of Builder module, can also be used for navigating through the projects.

Overall I found this training session useful for getting an awareness of the software product.

Friday 6 February 2009

Searching Lotus Notes email

At work, I use Lotus Notes email client and found its search reasonably good. But what irritates me the most is searching through archives. Since I am supposed to copy the archive database on CDs, I have created many archive files for different time periods. That has now required me to open each archive and search through it for anything I need. That made me search a tool that can provide an unified search interface for searching through all archive files.

Finally, my search ended with IBM OmniFind Personal Email Search tool. This is an outcome of IBM Alphaworks and one can download the tool from its site. I started using this tool since last Friday and have found it extremely useful.

While installing the tool, it asked for all archive files and local folder for indexing the documents. The tool provides a locally hosted web site for searching through all this data. It's not only keyword search. One can search for telephone numbers, email addresses etc. Actually the tool recognizes the concepts such as email address, telephone number, directions, schedule, call, person etc and hence one can search for them. The sample queries could be something like, "from chetan", "chetan phone", "url icws".

This tool has really enhanced my effectiveness at workplace. I would recommend it to you for enhancing your effectiveness at workplace!!

Wednesday 14 January 2009

IT for enforcing process discipline

I was recently reading a blog of Prof Andrew McAfee from Harvard Business School where I spotted a very interesting line: (Enterprise) IT can be used to enforce process discipline. I quickly disagreed because IMHO it is only transactional systems (e.g. ERP, HRM, CRM) that can enforce process discipline and not collaboration systems. I also thought that collaboration systems are actually useful when we don't need process discipline. But after a prolonged thinking, I agreed that even collaboration needs process discipline for making it effective and efficient and collaboration systems such as SharePoint can enforce that process discipline.

I would like to get your comments on this thought process.