Friday, August 04, 2006

Software Project Management

Software Project Management is a very well researched area and given the backdrop of globalization and IT revolution that has happened with India there has been a lot of studies as well as practice that has been made in this space. So I am not going to write about the same old story here.

Well for the beginners- Software Project Management is all about managing the customers, managing the technical developers/leads, and managing the necessary software development lifecycle (SDLC) processes to ensure that a particular project is immensely successful! At the end of the day, there are 3 objectives that a project manager should satisfy:
  1. Customers should be extremely thrilled with the execution of the project
  2. Developers/Tech Leads should have had a good challenging time in executing the project
  3. Process expectations for a project viz. Reliability, Risk Mitigation, Setting expectations, Scability and so on and so forth
This seems very simple when anyone reads about it and almost 60-70% of software projects worldover fail to meet expectations interms of effort, schedule and cost.

Why is that so? When things are so clear and when we all know that these are the areas that can make a project fail- Why is it so difficult to ensure 100% reliability?

Here is where Project Managers play a significant role in my mind and there are 2 aspects to this role.

There is a SCIENTIFIC aspect to project management and there is a ARTISTIC aspect to project management. The scientific part is reasonably simple:
  1. One needs to have clear specifications
  2. One needs to create a good project plan that can be tracked
  3. One needs to get the right technical people
  4. One needs to ensure that all the relevant processes are followed
There are still a few more to this scientific part that I have omitted as part of this blog is not to teach project management but to draw out perspectives on why projects fail and what can project managers do about it!!

The ARTISTIC aspect of project management is something that we all need to address as well:
What do you mean by artistic aspect: Things like:
  1. Do we know the one single most thing that can make this project fail? Are we able to sniff that beforehand?
  2. Do we have adequate relationship with the customer as well as the developers so that you can address conflict effectively? Believe me- this is the toughest part!
These involve a lot of intuition and instinct- This is what differentiates a successful project manager and an unsuccessful one!

Given the backdrop that we need to balance both scientific and artistic aspects of project management- How we do hone these skills and ensure that everyone possesses it?

Unfortunately there are no DO and DONT's for enhancing the artistic aspects of project management- Its like common sense! Either you have it or you dont have it!

But one thing can be honed- Project Managers can first identify that this is an issue and if they are able to consciously address it; they will be able to transcend the scientific boundaries that they have created and think more holistically.

This area is really tricky and it is the same as THINKING- I will write about this in my next blog.

I have seen numerous projects as a project manager, account manager, engagement manager, transition manager, program manager at Photon and I sincerely believe that project management as a discipline needs to be improved still!

Till then,

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Education System

"Live the life you have imagined. Go confidently in the direction of your dreams"- Henry David Thoreau

The most important thing that is lacking in indian education is pragmatic thinking!! We always take pride in the fact that our education has discipline. Nevertheless the concept of thinking synchronously aligning their skills becomes paramount when a student goes for a graduation after school.I am not good at statistics and hence am avoiding numbers or percentages;but I can say most of the indian middle class families orient their children in such a mindset that social acceptance,earnings,position,status are important in a populace of 1 billion and that should be the sole goal and objective-so get in to a education which makes you achieve that irrespective of your native skills. All one needs to make sure is to be in an area that mints money.Typical example is software industry where people just flocked like a bee to honey for overseas opportunities and definitely the concept of devalued rupee coming in to play(thanks to all our economy);it looks like a heaven.We can't ask more!! On hindsight this developed a sort of matrimonial profiling where a girl need not have fellowship;her father just needs to catch the right software fella.I am digressing here a little bit and i perfectly understand the implications of all these things and i dont blame anything. Coming back to education,this is perfect case of mismatch where one never knows what he is good at but aligns himself in such a way that he adapts to the new surrounding to make sure he delivers the best;which alternatively makes him defensive.The reason is he is always doing something which he has been given but not something which he gives in with passion! The point here is the vaccum which the education system is creating and how it impacts a student in the future when he/she painfully discovers that they are not suited for that particular job! Reality strikes for many of them and then they start the process of evaluating themselves and get in to an area of their choice if they are lucky.Usually by that time many personally become so responsible that they cant become adventurous with their career.Lot of constraints engulf them and they become totally lost in that eternal loop of balancing their personal and professional constraints.I strongly and sincerely believe that our education system makes us much more smarter and adaptable but the downside of the same is the blinkers it puts on every student and makes them lose the overall perspective.Have we ever thought what we like doing rather than what we should do? This is where the difference springs up and we become a creature tuned for society and parental constraints.We vegetate in that mundane world continually evaluating ourselves whether we are doing the thing we love passionately or not.Thanks to our education system which imparts us so much of knowledge but sadly no wisdom!! This concept can be well proven when you observe the Western Education System where the emphasis is more on independent thinking and less of discipline.I am not here eulogising the western eduaction but the point is to take the best part of any system and integrate in so that the evens are higher than the odds.In the west the focus is given on thinking and then developing themselves as a personality.In essence they think a lot about what they want to do and they just dont do something for the sake of doing it. This is because of education and the upbringing;I dunno the exact split up of these two but i prefer to leave the upbringing part as its more relative.I have consciously left the aspect of economic conditions of a developed country vis-a-vis a developing country for reasons completely unknown to me also as iam not good at economics too. I think the solution to this problem would be to emphasize independent thinking and de-linking money as the sole motivator for doing anything.Its pretty idealistic but the perspective is to make sure our education system addresses thinking as a course and appreciates that.Teachers dont give that embarassing look at students who ask,"why" in the class;Conscious promotion of independent thinking will holistically promote personalities rather than individuals.We have too much of individuals already.

Excellence- Is it a good trait or is it dying?

Its very difficult to train someone to understand Excellence- This is a phenomenal trait that is absolutely boundaryless.For the freshers- What is Excellence? Thanks to our Sequential Thinking we all correlate Excellence to being proficient in academics or getting the highest rank or getting the highest post etc etc. But Excellence can be achieved in every activity of life if we decide to do it!Think about it- I have been observing one of my housekeeping boys(or shall i say adult) whose sole job is to ensure that he cleans the office, run errands for all the staff and just do what he is told to do. A job cannot get more simple than that or it cannot get more mundane than that- But where this gentleman gets his RESPECT is showing SERIOUSNESS to his job irrespective of the nature of the job. The first step to Excellence is to ensure that whatever we do(the stress is on whatever) we do it perfectly- We need to be satisfied about it. When I mean we need to be satisfied about it, I mean we need EVALUATE ourselves first in the most ruthless way!! How many of us do it? Why do we ALLOW others to evaluate us? Is it our habit to allow others to pass comments on our work? No!! Then, Why?? Think about it again?If we evaluate ourselves, we should stand first in OUR EYES first!! Once we cultivate our mindset towards this approach we then can do things perfectly as per our own standards!The second step then is to evaluate our own standards continually and then take corrective action- This is a major step for many people who think they are excellent but get in to the "frog in the well" syndrome. They then become strict disciplinarian because they believe that they are good in their own standards and they NEVER evaluate their own standards! The reason is also two-fold: Since they are in the midst of a lot of people who dont have any standards of their own they feel that they are higher up as they have crossed level 1 and secondly they also get cob-webs in their thinking because of plain arrogance!!I always felt that we are great in doing things when we are told to do and we are NEVER attempting to EXCEL at doing something that we have been doing for a while. Its a MINDSET- I see a lot of us being/becoming more ambitious in our career and its GREAT to see that change. To add on to that change is being EXCELLENT on whatever we do!!

Think about it folks!!

Till then,

Monday, July 31, 2006

Building a Team

Often leaders and managers are faced with a lot of people management issues- the challenges that they face are related to getting a right team as well as coaching an exisiting team for higher performance!!

This has been talked about in many books but none can argue on the fact of getting the right people for the job! It seems to be a cliche always and I just wanted to share some of the snippets from a recent book that I read: It was really interesting and without even realizing these fundamentals, my intuitive way of building a team has worked wonders for me at Photon (

After significant years of experience, we might assume that the first step in BUILDING an organization would be to set a new direction, a new vision and strategy for the company AND THEN get people committed and aligned behind that new direction.

You might be surprised that usually its the OPPOSITE.

Usually the leaders who have created/built large organizations DID NOT first figure out where to drive the bus and then get people to take it there!! They first got the RIGHT people on the bus (and the WRONG people off the bus) and then FIGURED out where to drive it.

They said, in essence, "Look, I dont really know where we should take this bus. But I know this much: If we get the right people on the bus, the right people in the right seats, and the wrong people off the bus, then we will figure out how to take it someplace great."

These leaders understood three simple truths:

1) If you begin with "who" rather than "what" you can easily adapt to changing world. If people join the bus primarily because of where it is going, what happens if you get 10 miles down the road and you need to change direction? You've got a problem. But if people are on the bus because of who else is on the bus then it is much easier to change the direction: "Hey, I got on this bus because of who else is on it; if we need to change direction to be more successful, fine with me"

2) If you have the right people on the bus, the problem of how to motivate and manage people largely goes away. The right people don't need to be tightly managed or fired up; they will be self- motivated by the inner drive to produce the best results and to be part of creating something great.

3) If you have the wrong people, it does'nt matter whether you discover the right direction, you still wont have a great company. GREAT VISION without great people is irrelevant.

I just read KEN KESEY's classic statement about the same also : "There are going to be times when we can't wait for somebody. Now, you're either on the bus or off the bus"

In Photon, we started off as a small team of 15 people who strictly followed the above 3 points. All the 15 people believed in "WHO" rather than "WHAT" and that was the reason why we were able to change the directions of the bus time and again based on business priorities. Today the business has grown from 15 people to 800 people and I salute my team(ofcourse I take some credit in building them) for sticking it out! The most difficult part is sticking it out the tough times and during those phases, having the right people in the team always helps!

Thinking back, these leadership rules seems very obvious to me as I had implemented the same very intuitively but during those days it was much more of a roller coaster ride!

Thanks to the Photon team!