Any communication needs to have at least two ends – the origin and the destination. Most communication – at least the serious ones – are vectors. That is, they have a defined direction in which the information flow is intended. A whole stream of communication can be broken down into multiple vectors to study the communication pattern. However, no amount of communication can be successful if the origin and the destination do not follow an uniform communication protocol (that is why you won’t get far with your English in the city of Madrid). It is interesting to note how the origin and the destination respectively adjusts to arrive at either creating or at least translating to a common protocol (like I learn to say”¿Dónde está la estación?” in Madrid when I am lost near the train station).
Power plugs have always been a bane for travelers. A simple communication between a device and a power source had to be adjusted virtually for every continent and often for every country in a continent. The sheer magnitude of the problem created solutions that acted as translators – like universal power adapters. It took ages for either the origin (plugs) to arrive at a common standard or destinations (sockets) to be able to accommodate several. It is only recently that sockets in India can accept flat pins as well but no such luck at the origin end. Throw the matter of different voltages that go with powered devices and the situation becomes more complicated.
Software engineering is no different. The origin (product managers) have always struggled (and vice versa) to communicate effectively with the destination (engineers). Translators have emerged that try to engineer requirements from origin to a “destination friendly” language. UML for example. The translation layer added its own complexity since it was not natural to the communication process. This created another set of tool that helped in creating UML diagrams (translating the translation). And then engineers had to decode the UMLs (almost akin to modern historians dicepgering hieroglyphics). All because business and engineering could not establish a common communications protocol of stating and understanding what the other is saying.
So who should yield – the origin or the destination? The answer is, neither should have to, if the system is such set (remember – the ancient Egyptians did not have hieroglyphics to English translators because the system was setup such that everyone understood hieroglyphics). The lesson for the business is to keep product management and engineering as separate organizations but have them function joined absolutely at the hips. In my experience a requirement walk through that takes one day is far more effective than a five pound UML document that takes twenty to create and another ten to understand.
Technorati Tags: Communication, UML, Software Requirements, Communication Breakdown, Communication Protocol
The qualities of a good leader are well known – ability to provide a vision, belief in himself and in the team, ability to reduce scatter and focus and above all excellent work ethics. There are others that are situation specific but you get the drift. I see a rather disturbing trend in the corporate sector – and this is not just in India – of creating a hierarchy that goes like this. A good performer can be made a good manager who in turn can be made into a good leader. It is undeniable that in some cases this sequential move can and possibly does make sense but making this a norm has dangerous consequences.
I keep a curious eye on companies that promote COOs to CEOs. A good majority of those companies fall into the leadership trap where they concentrate too much on internal workings (a COO’s forte) rather than leading the business externally with customers. Interestingly, many Investment Bank watchers look out for this cue (of COO’s made CEOs) as a sign that the Bank is in desparate need to clean up its house.
Team sports are even more interesting. While it is necessary for the team to have an on-field captain, the parameters that often dictate the choice is quite polar to the reason why a leader should be present in the first place. Selectors often play it safe by choosing a good performer because that ensures continuity, glossing over the potential absence of leadership qualities in the chosen one.
Americans display a different set a parameters while selecting their leader (the President, that is). Shashi Tharoor argues that often those parameters are quite not what the electorate in general posses yet they demand that their leader has them!
It is fascinating to observe the process by which different functions from different walks of life choose their leaders.
Technorati Tags: Leaders, Choosing Leaders, Leadership Qualities
Why is software distributed on CDs and not on thumb drives? The question popped up in the recently introduced “LinkedIn Answers”. I chose to answer thus
Metaphors stick. And they continue well beyond their sell-by date. The “Save” icon in all MS Office Applications pictures a three-and-a-half-inch floppy drive, something that is a collector’s item today. But the metaphor stuck.
Software distribution is stuck with the CD metaphor. CDs are considered as “media” and hence – like what media should do – is used for propagation of content. Interestingly, a lot of companies give away thumb-drives containing publicity material and presentations during seminars, product launches and road-shows. It is quite likely that the same company is shipping its own software in CDs. Not that it is unaware of the channel – just that it is afraid of breaking away from the metaphor.
Any other thoughts?
Technorati Tags: Software Distribution, Product Marketing
The question should not be treated trivially, since the answer forms the bedrock of everything that a business does. It is entirely likely that the answer was thought of when the company was formed but unfortunately the answer evolves as does the business over a period of time. It stands to reason thus that the answer must be rethought periodically.
A lot of companies fall prey to vision hedging. That is, they define the vision of their business in long winding statements that leave scope for ambiguity. The businesses then hide behind this subjectivity and the business ends up driving the vision rather than the reverse. I encountered a fantastic vision statement in the 1999 Al Pacino, Russell Crowe starer The Insider. The evil CEO of the tobacco company espoused his mission statement as “We are in the nicotine delivery business”. For a moment shed the inhibition of this being a socially evil thing to do and concentrate on the pithy power of this seven-word statement. Nothing can be more clear than this. Once stated, adopting this around the company should not be a difficult matter.
I have seen Product Managers fall prey to vision hedging as well. Their products want to be many things to many people, sadly ending up as nothing to nobody. All products must have a vision statement that provides the purpose of building the product. Product Managers must then create themes for every release of the product and link them back to the vision. It is alright to change the vision but two rules apply
- Never change the vision frequently. Yes, we live in turbulent times but that should not be taken as excuse to create a volatile vision statement
- Keep it short and focused. Verbose vision statements that have more than four “and”s are an absolute no-no.
Technorati Tags: Vision Statement, Product Theme, Vision Hedging
Empty seats in the economy class is not the airlines’ problem. Actually airlines suffer because of this phenomena, which squarely reflects economic softening. Nothing that the airlines can do about.
Empty seats in the Business and First Class is serious matter though. It beats me how airlines allow that to happen and not upgrade folks that are cramped in coach class. It is such a powerful gesture that is guaranteed to delight a customer. At the gate say “Sir, this is your new boarding pass. We upgraded you to Business. Complimentary. We hope you have a comfortable flight with us” if the airlines could sort out the bumless-seats upfront. If there still are empty seats, locate the person most uncomfortable in the lower class (someone single in a middle seat, someone right at the last row where the seats don’t incline completely) and make her day by guiding her to the higher class of comfort. When the marginal cost of upgrade is zero (okay, not completely zero but very close) then upgrade as many as possible. Make the switch experience dramatic for the user by skipping an intevening class if you can (take row 56E straight up the staircase to First Class). The simple gesture of costless upgrading buys a lifetime of loyalty for the airline. The airlines don’t get it.
The same thing applies to Product Marketing. If your product ladder has Base, Gold and Platinum versions then give away the lowest marginal cost difference items to some of your most irate customers.
Technorati Tags: Airlines, Free Upgrade, Customer Delight
Snigdha Sengupta runs a popular blog on Private Equity (PE) and Venture Capital (VC) investments and trends in India. She graciously hosted on her blog my article exploring the motivations of Private Equity firms going public. You can read the piece here.
Technorati Tags: Private Equity, PE IPO, IPO, KKR, KPE, KKR IPO, Venture Capital, Public Companies