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.