Holding true in the decade of AI

It is very rare that one comes across a book that not just tells a story, but is also a case study of case studies. The authors have done full justice by sharing real incidents of metamorphosis across divergent company sizes. 

The book talks about multiple scenarios where companies, running under disparate market and competitive situations respectively, have engendered a major transformation. The evolution lead to both success and failure, which have been garnished by the authors with deeper points of view. An aspect elaborated is of culture playing a crucial role in the change that any company undergoes. An excellent example presented is of Capital Holding, where executives were clear early on, that communicating and reiterating the changes would be the second step. The first step would be to understand the existing logical behavior that people adhered to within their business environment. This contributed to pacifying and empowering employees, who were thrust under unfamiliar circumstances, brought about by the new processes in place.

Another example that shined brightly was of Taco Bell. In today’s age, a plethora of startups tend to fail because of a lack of product/market fit. There could be multiple reasons for the debacle. Yet, one of those reasons is not focussing on the user. Taco Bell’s story in the early 1980’s rings true even today. They had been under significantly losses, when the top management decided to undertake a restructuring, with a vision to focus on what the customers wanted. This enabled them to understand where there had been unnecessary money burn, and helped make a successful turnaround.

While the lessons brought out may make a lot of common sense in today’s world (that has been eaten up by software and faster product life cycles), the book serves as a good reminder to product managers and digital leaders. It provides a no holds barred indication about information technology being a key ingredient for overhauling the functioning of companies. With technologies like machine learning knocking at the doors of a new and rapid digital transformation, multiple companies are still reluctant to let go of a culture that could imbibe and integrate the knowledge worker. While it may serve in the short run, it could turn out to be disastrous in the long run, which the book succinctly brings out.

Reengineering the corporation is a book that can help build a mindset which can navigate the emerging complexities of new dimensions in business.

Why IPL is to be ‘blamed’ for reversing gears?

The list had been published on the doors of respective classrooms. As I grappled with the crowd to check the names, the state of disbelief was writ large on my face. I solemnly took to walking towards the staffroom, with offers from three of the bulk hiring companies. No one in my batch of MCA had achieved this feat. As I entered, I was greeted with a wry statement, “We always thought nothing could come of you.”

Receiving the award from Rahul Abhyankar, Cofounder IPL

Pressing my pen to the paper, I write to show ‘gratitude’ to my ‘teachers for not believing in me. School teachers for ignoring me, in the belief that only those who scored more than 90% deserved to be treated with respect. College teachers, who instead of guiding a lost and miserable student, stuck to discreetly hinting that I did not deserve to have a decent professional life. All of this for the reason that I could not perform appropriately in the respective subjects.

My gratitude, and its expression thereof, is towards the same teachers; for frustrating me with the Indian education system. Owing to this heightened emotion, I chose Asia’s first B school for product leaders. And I am glad I did! The tables finally turned around, as I won the Student of the Month award for the second time for May 2017 (after March 2017). 🙂 🙂

Reliving many such old memories of an ignored student, I feel a strange sense of satisfaction, for believing in IPL’s system of learning on a Sunday and applying on a Monday. While IPL shoulders the ‘blame for shifting the reverse gear of a frustrated student forward, I drive further down the road of product / digital leadership. And there could be no better pit stops in this drive, than two interesting books awaiting me as the individual awards.

Student of the Month – March
Student of the Month – May


The simple way to lead, once more – A product leader in the making

“Gullu, you shall be talking!”

It all began when I was tasked with talking about a product that I had been driving as a product manager (popularly known as Gullu within the company). The product, at that point of time, had been going through tough times. Yet, I was supposed to be delivering a talk about it to the entire company.

Dumping myself into a chair, I zoomed into the history of my transactions with the various stakeholders I had had over the last multiple months. As I grappled with the question of what to talk about, it struck me that on one hand, I was supposed to be introducing and talking about the what and why of the software. On the other hand, since the product was already live, most other employees were already biased with opinions about it (some of them fiercely negative). None the less, I went ahead and delivered the talk.

A day post my talk, I proceeded to understand what various other employees thought about the same. An insight that came out as the hidden surprise within the patterns was about a simple introductory line that I had utilized –

“I, Nitish Gulati, the product manager of xxx, on behalf of our company xxx…..”.

A weekly talk had been a regular affair at the company. In effect, the neurons in employees’ brains had been wired to get and plant their derriere on the chairs, simply to accommodate the session and speaker respectively. Yet, despite the unwelcome thoughts, I was able to take it a step ahead with the above introduction line.

All I did was to play around the above bias, making all feel that it was actually me who was obliged to have them listening to my voice. In addition, it drove home my credibility of standing in front of them. The new links in their brains created signals that the individual standing and communicating meant serious business, and was not presenting simply because he was supposed to.

A side effect of the talk was that people who were vocal about the flaws of the product went on a restructuring of their thoughts. Instead of further criticism, they began talking to me about the same faults, putting it forth as a suggestion, rather than a complaint. Those 20 minutes reinforced the fact that the product, despite its flaws, was meant to be heard out. That the team deserved to be respected for all the hard word put in. That the product will come back strong, no matter what.

In the Masters of Scale podcast, Sheryl Sandberg crisply mentioned the example of how valuable it can be, when a meeting is begun with the what and why. “What are we doing” and “why are we doing it”. A simple approach of repetition work to influence the thought process of the team in the direction of the product, rather than authoritatively pushing them towards a predefined expectation.

As I take inspiration from the wonderful podcast series, I look forward to increasing the number of rating stars on my influential index as a leader, while still being the nuts and bolts guy who can relentlessly execute.




Beating authority with influence: The journey of a common man

Kids running around the fenced lake with their uncontrollable shrieks of laughter. Walkers smiling and chatting with their buddies. Group of pre-teenagers observing the variety of birds and nests near the lake. Senior citizens recollecting their childhood days as the butterflies add to a gaiety evening.

Scenes like the above could be the future state of Bengaluru city. A collection of blissful and clean lake areas, contributing to controlling the weather and biodiversity of the city. The future of “Silicon Valley of India” is also in restoring its traditional lakes. Maintaining of water bodies encourages ecological balance. And replenishes the underground water table, infusing clean water in our lives.

Why even talk about Bangalore lakes?

Historical Perspective:

Bengaluru has been well known as “City of Lakes” and there is a history behind its name. “Founder of Bangalore” Kempegowda, envisioned the city without water scarcity. He perceived that the nearest river “Cauvery” being 150 km from Bangalore, there would be difficulty in sustaining future water needs. Taking advantage of physical terrain, he adopted the method of impounding runoff water. The city became dotted with many lakes/tanks in and around. This ensured abundant water for drinking, land irrigation and secondary purposes.

As per records of 1960, 262 water bodies existed in Bangalore. Today, only 34 out of 81 are recognized as live lakes. These figures denote water bodies reduction by 35% and a decrease in water spread area by 8.6% over time.

Geographical perspective:

Lakes in Bengaluru are interlinked by the geophysical position of its 3 valleys; Hebbal Valley, Koramangala & Challaghatta Valley and Vrishabhavathi Valley. They form a hydrological connection through them. Each valley at the ridge top of valley, gives way to small streams hosting six series of lake groups. These lakes interlink to each other through a series of chains of lakes. This natural alignment gives cascading effect to the whole system.

The connectivity does not allow water out of the lake into the surrounding area.  Transfer of extra seasonal water to other lakes helps in water retainment.  This undulating terrain of Bengaluru lends itself to the natural development of lakes.

Ecological Perspective:

Wetlands and lakes constitute the most productive ecosystems for life sustenance. They provide natural habitat for varied organisms ,including seasonal stay of migratory birds. They assist in flood control, waste water treatment and arresting sediment load. Also aids in protein production of drinking water. Treats community’s wastewater in natural low cost way , while functioning as wild fauna. These ecosystems are valuable for education and scientific endeavors due to rich biodiversity. Thus support bioremediation and is known as ‘kidneys of the landscape’.

What is the current situation?

Apart from already extinct lakes, there is continuous degradation of existing lakes. Urban wetlands threatened by encroachment of drainage through land-filling and pollution. Thus Altering the hydrology  and over-exploiting the natural resources.

This has resulted in loss of biodiversity of the wetland and its goodness. Despite legislation bodies, uncoordinated urban development is causing loss of sensitive wetlands.

There are different para -state agencies who are custodians of the different lakes.

Some of the challenges of these agencies are

  1. Uncoordinated urban growth
  2. Decentralized administration
  3. Treating water as infinite resource
  4. Lack of studies on water crisis and pollution from history and other counterparts
  5. Sustaining an inflow of sewage and industrial effluents without any limits.

The problems of multi body interactions and coordination gave rise to a common Authority “KLCDA” in 2016.

What has our response been towards it?

Period of Desolation

As per Kübler-Ross Grief model, terminally ill or people who lost their loved one, experience series of emotions. These emotions are of five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depressing and acceptance. Any change goes through these 5 stages. Then the pattern of Kübler-Ross change curve sets in. The depletion of lakes has created desolation and grief among concerned citizens .

These are few important reasons behind these dying lakes

  1. Drainage systems are unable to cope with increased volume of water and often blocked due to indiscriminate disposal of solid waste
  2. Removal of interconnectivity of lakes
  3. Partially treated or untreated sewage waste (by BWSSB and high rise apartment)
  4. Industrial effluents into the drains connecting the lake
  5. Removal of interconnectivity of lakes
  6. Partially treated or untreated sewage waste (by BWSSB and high rise apartment)
  7. Industrial effluents into the drains connecting the lake
  8. Demolished building debris, Excavated earth
  9. Dumping of untreated sewage through tankers
  10. Dumping of bio medical waste
  11. Dumping of municipal solid waste

After research on this topic, we faced real grief for our dying lakes. Like other concerned citizens, we are on the path of shock, denial leading to depression. We all have been oscillating between frustration and experimentation without any movement towards future.

Period of Hope

Our interest in the topic deepened as we dug deeper. There emerged many citizen heroes and influencers, who are trying to restore the lakes in their own way. These role models have been transforming the situation from despair to hope.

There have been a plethora of stories of such heroes and communities already active. They have formal agreement with the government and the respective custodians of lakes to restore the same in their areas.

Some of the well known examples are:

  • PNLIT- puttenahalli neighborhood improvement lake trust
  • MAPSAS to restore series of lakes in Sarjapur ORR /Belandur lakes
  • Jalposhan – community around jakkur lake
  • Chinnapanahalli lake trust – to restore chinnapanahalli lake

An incident that came to light in recent days was where an international company with an expertise on sewage treatment came into limelight. This company had plans to propose Rs 4000 crore quote for 1 lakh only to Bengaluru govt. This has jolted the attention of people at others achievements in similar areas.

Many such examples like deployment of floating islands at Puttenhalli lake to ensure natural ecosystem have caught on with the public. Whitefield rising tried to address the froth in Varthur lake. And more experiments and drives have been happening to clean lakes and bring back the lost glory.

We got inspired by such citizen teams and institution. Such examples created hope within us to do our bit as well. We felt a dire need to provide thought leadership how citizen teams can be important custodians for lake restorations.

How can we get back to Kempegowda’s vision

Some of the ideas which can create an impact in the lake restorations

  1. Demarcation of Lake Lands across the City.
  • Digitization of land records
  • Boundary of water bodies with the buffer zone
  • Fencing to be done for all lakes

2. A single authority for custodian of Water Resources in Bengaluru.

  • There are various government bodies responsible for taking care of Lakes, consolidate the efforts under a single authority.
  • Lake Protection and Management Authority should be developed with stakeholders such as local community body consisting of people with different professions, common lake referral body, should be in the decision making regarding the lake in that jurisdictions

3. Pollution control board

  • Handling, treatments and management of municipal solid waste as per MSW RULE 2000
  • Letting only treated sewage into the lake
  • Complete restriction on disposal of industrial effluents
  • Environment Cess

4. Developing the lakes as biodiversity parks instead of commercializing them for the benefit of a few.

  • Low cost way to treat community wastewater while functioning as wild fauna sanctuary with public access
  • Safeguarding biodiversity
  • Implementation of bioremediation method for detoxification of polluted water body
  • Aquatic macrophytes management need to be developed

5. Public and Corporate partnership

  • Information sites for each lake on their current custodian authority and community memberships to help restore lakes. Benefits to such volunteer work should be added in corporate appraisals and other rewards for motivations in local activities reward programs
  • Technology and app for the lake management
  • Public information systems
  • Education of such restoration in schools and colleges
  • Marketing campaigns and surveys to be conducted to generate awareness about the lake and its benefits, in that community
  • Home makers participation and awareness
  • Students from environmental sciences should be part of restoration projects in the city and they should be given incentives to get into higher education programmes based on community work( swach bharat )
  • Training to public /community based programs for restoring and empowering with information about the steps to be done
  • Environmental education to be mandatory in schools – need of the hour
  • Local labs to be set up by students without registration hassles to conduct free studies and publish

With a distinct variety of ideas, some trusts are formed for a few lakes. Also there are enough people movements driven by individuals or by groups are starting to show up for securing the Lakes.

The weapons of influence to bring in a major change

A story that truly stood out for us is of an influencer that took over the task of bringing back the dying Maragondanahalli lake to life all by himself. The transformation of this lake in the midst of Electronic City is a testimony to how even one man’s effort can turn around the look and feel of an entire neighborhood.

Mr. Venugopal Kumpalli used to regularly pass Bellandur Lake when it was at the peak of infamy, frothing and ablaze. It bothered him so much, for he didn’t want a similar fate for the Maragondanahalli lake in his neighbourhood, and decided to clean it himself. He cleaned the bushes for a stretch of 400 to 500 metres in three months, all by himself till other residents realised that they also should lend a helping hand.

Reciprocity

“Most of the work was done by me and then when people realised that there was a lake so close to their house and reviving it would do them a world of good, they started helping me,” he said.

When a person does a favor to another, the receiver feels obligated to return it as soon as possible. By obligating the recipient of an act to repayment in the future, the rule for reciprocation allows one individual to give something to another with confidence that it is not being lost. This sense of future obligation within the rule makes possible the development of various kinds of continuing relationships, transactions and exchanges that are beneficial to the society. When people don’t reciprocate, they suffer serious social disapproval. French anthropologist Marcel Mauss in describing the social pressures surrounding the gift-giving process in human culture, said, “There is an obligation to give, an obligation to receive, and an obligation to repay.” The obligation to receive is key to exploit the reciprocity rule. When the favor is unsolicited, the reciprocation goes up, due to three characteristics of reciprocation rule:

  • The rule is extremely powerful, often overwhelming the influence of other factors the normally determine compliance with a request
  • The rule applies even to uninvited first favors, thereby reducing our ability to decide whom we wish to owe and putting the choice in the hands of others.
  • Finally, the rule can spur unequal exchanges, to be rid of the uncomfortable feeling of indebtedness, and individual will often agree to a request for a substantially larger favor than the one received.

With his act Venugopal was able to generate this sense of obligation and utilize it in his endeavours.

Commitment and Consistency:

Venugopal was, literally, a one-man army as he took on charge to clean the premises of the lake after he was permitted by the Hulimangala Panchayat. For a person who has always been into embedded systems and has spent most of his time learning technological stuff, learning the mechanism of the bush-cutter machine was not easy.

“I had to learn the gear ratio along with how the machine really works. I also learnt how to repair it if it breaks down,” said the 37-year-old.

“It is easier to resist at the beginning than at the end”- Da Vinci

This quote could not hold more true as Venugopal was questioned time and again on his objectives, when be begun cleaning. Human beings want to appear consistent with their self-image (words, beliefs, attitudes and deeds) because personal consistency is highly valued by the society. Aside from its effect on public image, generally consistent conduct provides a beneficial. A consistent orientation affords a valuable shortcut through the complexity of modern existence. The drive to be and look consistent constitutes a highly potent weapon of social influence, often causing us to act in ways that are clearly contrary to our own best interests. It is almost like a “mechanical consistency” or an automatic consistency.

The key point to be thinking about is the trigger here, that is, commitment. Kumpalli’s commitment to not give up and keep going about his work set the stage for the receiver’s (in this case, the nearby residents) automatic consistency with the giver’s commitment.

Social Proof

Now that the entire stretch has been cleaned, the residents felicitated him on Saturday and also went on a drive to plant saplings along the stretch that would indeed make the lake worth visiting.

“Ever since the lake side has been cleared, the residents have been gathering here to take a breath of fresh air and that is a victory for me,” Venugopal said.

“Where all think alike, no one thinks very much”

When one observes people performing actions, one tends to believe that it is the right thing to do. It helps people decide what to believe or how to act in a situation. The principle of social proof was exploited by Venugopal to simulate a person’s compliance with a request by informing that many other individuals are or have been complying with it. This principle is the most influential under two conditions: uncertainty and similarity. In this case, Venugopal was operating under a high sense of uncertainty right from the beginning of his exercise. Whereas, once he was able to make inroads into the consciousness of the residents, the public found a semblance of similarity in the actions and the resultant impact on the lake and the community at large.

Scarcity

“The way to love anything is to realize that it might be lost” – Gilbert K. Chesterton.

Opportunities seem more valuable to us when they are less available. This holds true because

  • Things that are difficult to attain are typically more valuable, the availability of an item or experience can serve as a shortcut to its quality
  • As things become less accessible, we lose freedom. According to Psychological Reactance Theory, we respond to loss of of freedoms by wanting to have them more than before!

Scarcity rule is more likely to hold when scarce items are heightened in value when they are newly scarce and when we compete with others for them.

While scarcity can be used as a weapon of influence, it has been a persuasive and harsh reality at Bengaluru. With diminishing lakes, they tended to become more valuable. In this case, the lake was a prominent item which added immense value to the entire ecosystem, yet multiple drops like the ones mentioned resulted in heightened competition for

  • Water level
  • Cleanliness of the surrounding area
  • Usability of water

Utilizing divergent influencing styles to bring a major changes

There are five different influencing styles. When one is operating unconsciously out of a preference (his/her own style) and not cognizant of the results expected, there is a tendency to intensify the preferred behavior; even when it’s not working!

A look at different influencing styles used by Venugopal helps in observing the theory that if only a preferred style is applied, then it has the potential to undermine the influence with varieties of people.

Rationalizing

Venugopal observed the ill maintained lake and the illegal elements frequenting the locality, thereby creating nuisance. His core point of view being that the place, if maintained well; would be surrounded by upright citizens rather than others. He spent his personal time and money to educate himself, on the vagaries of foliage maintenance and its impact on lakes. In fact he bought the necessary tools, learnt how to use them to clean bushes and cleaned the bushes of 400- 500 meters all by himself. He ended up learning on the job and building his own experience. The expertize he built over a period of time enabled him to leverage his experience while persuading others to join in.

Asserting

“People never question when someone throws a bottle in the lake, but when you go and clean the lake, you get asked plenty of questions. I had to take permission to clean and develop the lake,” Venugopal said.

As he begun his journey, there were questions raised from local authorities and he was assertive to bring about the change to the lake went ahead and took permissions from village panchayat to start his mission. He even received threat from local drunkard for pursuing the activity. He still went ahead undeterred in his mission by demonstrating his assertive influence style with local authorities and trouble makers. He challenged others ideas on the state of the lake with his persistent work and relentless attitude.

When his efforts started showing, people joined and realised they indeed had a beautiful lake in their backyard.

Negotiating

Venugopal when questioned about his intentions and pushback had to negotiate the terms with authorities and panchayat.

But when he realized what he started alone needs better and bigger attention from the people in the locality. He negotiated with the people around in a very distinct and innovative way.

Bridging

“I thought of involving children of the society to attract the attention of their parents. So I gave them colour sprinklers that are used during holi to colour the tree trunks and that drew attention of the parents too.” – said Venugopal.

When he started on the mission of cleaning this lake, he was a lone person doing it for about 3 months. Then when his attempts were showing results, he attracted the children and involving them to color the tree trunks, thus uniting and connecting with the their parents. He made a personal connect with the parents and demonstrated bridging style of influence to make the other people agree his mission and help him in this mission.

Inspiring

His Walk the talk style generated a momentum in the local neighbourhood to get him noticed. Slowly, he shared his sense of purpose with local people by sharing his sense of mission for the clean lake and its shared benefits to the local residents , thus inspiring them to join hands in his mission. Many residents came forward to help in cleaning and also planting more saplings.

Conclusion

Felicitation by the local community to the 37 year old determined man has been a mark of respect towards his commitment to the lake and the community at large. Venugopal’s success hinged on the cooperation of several people across the neighborhood, and other agencies as well, over whom he had no formal authority. In such circumstances, general phenomena of command and-control leadership—the “I leader, you follower” approach would not have taken him far. His thought leadership in leading a change initiative, utilizing the weapons of influence in parallel with a variety of influencing styles; helped him. It contributed in creating a substantial impact towards rejuvenating a lake that had been ignored and had been dying it’s natural death.

References

  1. http://www.karnataka.gov.in/Parisaramahiti/Pages/Status-of-Bangalore%27s-lakes.aspx
  2. http://www.indiawaterportal.org/articles/more-90-bangalores-lakes-are-polluted-or-encroached
  3. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/varthur-lake-no-longer-the-economic-lifeline-it-once-was/article5090334.ece
  4. http://www.dnaindia.com/bangalore/report-bangalore-s-lakes-to-get-rs200-crore-lifeline-1621246
  5. http://www.thebetterindia.com/87836/bellandur-lake-bengaluru-water-pollution-innovative-solutions/
  6. https://www.karnataka.com/bangalore/lakes-in-bangalore/
  7. http://www.karnataka.gov.in/Parisaramahiti/Pages/Lakes-of-Bangalore.aspx
  8. http://www.puttenahallilake.in/about-pnlit/our-activities
  9. http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/bangalore/Corporate-pitch-to-save-city%E2%80%99s-lakes/article14422071.ece
  10. http://www.newindianexpress.com/cities/bengaluru/2017/mar/22/how-one-man-cleaned-three-lakes-in-bengaluru-1584209.html
  11. http://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/research-news/2013-11-28-rejuvenating-the-garden-city.html
  12. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/foreign-firms-propose-to-rejuvenate-bellandur-lake/articleshow/57834406.cms
  13. http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/bengaluru/agara-lake-rejuvenation-lake-development-body-invites-tenders-for-the-4th-time/articleshow/56694113.cms
  14. http://www.bluewaterbio.com
  15. http://bangaloremirror.indiatimes.com/bangalore/cover-story/electronics-city-lakes-bengaluru-man-on-a-mission-despite-many-threats/articleshow/58319620.cms
  16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rT_7F6_lkOI
  17. https://hbr.org/2008/02/exerting-influence-without-aut

 

Disclaimer – This article was originally composed and published on LinkedIn in collaboration with Amit Arora and Srivalli Maharaju.

I finally got customer obsession. Sadly, not the best of companies!

The sun had just begun shining brightly, as the day progressed towards a lazy afternoon. Sipping hot tea, I lazed around, reading a couple of articles. Finally, I had a weekend to myself, without classes and assignments from Asia’s first B school for product leaders. (The B school staff ensures to not make me sit idle, while being in pursuit of my passion of becoming a product / digital leader).

A couple of ads placed together caught my eye. Assuming that they are personalized and targeted, I clicked on them with an inclination to experiment.

The Flipkart ad for a shoe ended up in a clothing store. Even the URL indicated to me “https://www.flipkart.com/mens-clothing-store”. At first, I doubted myself, wondering whether I had probably clicked randomly, without really focussing on the ad. I navigated back to the page to check the same. And there it was, the flashy shoe staring back at me!

Right below was an ad from Amazon, and it took me directly to the page of the book. I not only saw the book details, but the prices and the add to cart button. This clearly played on making things easy for the consumer. It essentially nudged me, as an end user, to finally make that purchase.

There does not seem to be much complex tech involved in this. In any case, since this was a facebook ad, the core competency was being taken care by the FB ad business team themselves. Yet, after burning millions of ad dollars, if this is the customization offered to end users, it is surprising to say the least.

Customer obsession involves fleshing out all the touch points across the customer journey and working backwards to ensure that all are met. While we se many errors / bugs / customer complaints across different products, it is imperative that any company works in that direction. Frictionless checkouts are considered default in today’s software products. Failing to oblige the customer in that direction is only a lost cause in the long term.

This post is not biased against either company or team. The pen was put to paper to indicate that customer obsession lies in the simplest of things. Either there is a lack of supply of better product marketing managers, or a lack of better testers.

Or simply better product managers are the demand of the day, to drive the respective teams towards offering value to customers / consumers.




Why I question HankyPanty’s astonishing views on Sonakshi!

The camera cuts across to focus on her, as she steps in, laced with large sunglasses. Mouthing some casual Punjabi words in the guise of a rap song, she begins gyrating to the tunes of the song (a tune that seems to have ‘pop’ped out of strange noises stringed together).

@sonakshisinha, the Bollywood actress who features in many such songs, recently defended herself about being multi talented. This was with respect to the rumor that had been flying around thick and fast, about her opening Justin Bieber’s India act, despite being an actress. In response, the comedian @hankypanty cheekily opined about one having to be talented in at least one thing, before claiming to be a multifaceted personality. I tend to disagree with him on Sonakshi being delusional about her talents. In my humble opinion, she actually belongs to the top of the food chain in one aspect.

Humans grow up with a set of biases, and acquire some of them over a period of time. Having moved across multiple cultures / cities / countries; there is one bias that I have been able to recognize from modern Punjabi songs. There is an unwitting portrayal of the protagonist (in this case, a female) with the following –

  • an expensive sports car (mostly a Lamborghini or Bugatti)
  • her hair swaying with her waist
  • swallowing enormous amounts of alcohol or dancing right next to a bar, and
  • she attempting to make moves better than imported dancers in the background.

This bias seems to have been repeatedly force fed through such videos. Although being a Punjabi myself, it has been a compelling yet complex case for me to fathom; about why familiar strokes are repeatedly painted, under the pretext of using different brushes!

Had it been some other celebrity actress, I would have gone so far as to think that she is diluting the value of her personal brand by frequently doing such videos instead of more films respectively. But in Sonakshi’s case, she actually fits the bill perfectly, when it comes to donning this character, within the mentioned context, and showcasing her acting skills in this one area.

 




The Agile Awards Fallacy

A few days back, the Head of Products of a firm alluded to the plan of a new approach in their company. It would involve the employment of a credit point based objective assessment system. This methodology would be used to build a score board for agile product development teams; where each team could track their credit points earned during a sprint and compete for a Sprint Champion Award.

As a product manager, the questions to strike my mind were –

  • what would be achieved?
  • why even do this, in the first place?

Why do this?

The management had been thinking along the lines of building this concept to nourish overall healthy competition between teams.

What would be achieved?

Having driven products in parallel with completely divergent objectives, users, etc; the program got me thinking about the implications on the teams. I turned to the basics, referring to the Agile manifesto. One of the twelve principles says –

Build projects around motivated individuals.
Give them the environment and support they need,
and trust them to get the job done.

While the intent of the program sounded good, the finer details spelled a recipe for disaster. The plan sounded unfair to the teams who worked hard day in and day out despite being bombarded with a constant barrage of changes. They might not be able to achieve the award simply because of an issue that they might not be directly responsible for. Hiring the right people and then trusting them to the job is of paramount importance. The program seemed to undermine this key tenet of a product company.

Another of the principles says –

Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer
through early and continuous delivery
of valuable software.

From a delivery perspective, my thoughts centered around a dissimilar concept. Instead of rewarding teams on the basis of points scored, the champion award could be proffered to the team that ended up delivering something worthy of use. The value stream of the feature/product could be mapped towards either the client/customer/consumer. Walking down this path could definitely take time, in terms of measuring and justifying the champion, but the approach could be worth it’s grain of salt.

In conclusion, ideas like the above can tend to negate the purpose of the methodology. While agile as a framework has its benefits of allowing inflection points, which enable pivots for teams/products/companies; it needs to be used to provide a meaningful nudge to the teams, that strive hard to deliver true value.

The True Sher’s – Part 5

Read Part 4

Prioritization

It is also important for the PM to filter out the sensible requests from the noise. There are various techniques to prioritize. They could be in the form of time, complexity or business cases. In products like Shareathon, both time and business case tend to play critical roles.

The easier way to perform the said task is by beginning with the question, “How might this help the user?”

Data, the key?

With all possible market feedback in tow, it can feel trivial to go all out on a product based on a hypothesis. But, with less data available, trying to build fast can be a key component to success. Provided, one has spent sufficient time understanding the problem.

Once a product gets to live, the amount of feedback that could pour in could be exhausting. Or the same can be extracted by a PM who is good in communicating with a wide variety of users.

With quick launches, and resolutions of bugs, the diamonds can start emerging from the dust. Filtering the diamonds  through basic analysis, a PM can provide a necklace around the diamonds, to start forming stories around user behavior.

Conclusive food for thought

As a PM, one of the delightful moments that one would await for, is the product going live, so that it can be utilized by the intended users. Though one can be at the receiving end of extremely critical comments, but on the other end of the spectrum, the possibility of appreciation far outweighs the negatives of any launch.

While all of the above traits hold significance, it is humility that is one of the key differentiating factors. What comes across from examples like above, is that product management can be a messy process. Dealing with multiple people / teams at the same time is not a job for the faint hearted. Having thought leaders like Rohan Krishna and Dr Marya Wani definitely helps. As they can foster an influential environment, cajoling people to bring out their best towards the product. 

Having stated this, Shareathon.in went live at lightning speed. More importantly, the humbleness of the team in accepting feedback (positive and negative), prioritizing the same, and pushing the solution out to end users was commendable.

From the eyes of a product manager, the true Sher’s at the event were not the participants, but the team itself. And, I look forward to the team and platform soaring high in days to come.

The True Sher’s – Part 4

Read Part 3

The internet has intricately woven itself into the offline lives of people. This has been in part due to the democratization of technology. Which in effect, has absorbed a large audience on to the web. Additionally, it has spawned rival services in multiple industries and segments.

On one hand, design thinking, user experience, and such concepts are encouraged to be thought through beforehand. This ensures that the experience for the end user is commendable, if not jaw dropping.

But, on the other hand, such speed of technology has only raised the bar for products that are going live the first time. “Beta” is no longer a word that can be utilized to mask issues under the hood. A user today has a plethora of choices available for him/her. It is only a matter of seconds in which the choice is made.

With such precarious scenarios, it becomes all the more difficult for product managers to balance various people / teams at stake.
Business stakeholders are out for their necks if there are delays in the launch. Whereas, if the product is poor, the end users can tend to ditch the platform, or worse, publicly damage the reputation on social media.

Be agile

A team should always be ready to support and fix issues as quickly as possible. In a typical customer support scenario, fixes can be taken in due course of time. But, the velocity should be faster in a product scenario. And agile methods help in enabling the velocity.

Basic principles like the entire team being responsible to act fast, brings a sense of responsibility to all the members. This motivates them to give their best. Techniques like Scrum and Kanban ensure in bringing a method to the madness.

Read on to know more 

The True Sher’s – Part 3

Read Part 2

3)

Suggestion – The image of the Greek warrior on the home page does not seem to do justice to the Indian terminology of “Sher” in the subsequent sections. Either an Indian pic could be inserted or the Sher word could be changed to something Greek.

Insight – With multiple biases of the human mind at play, cohesiveness of the site is important to engage with users. The site needs to bring out a common theme, in terms of content, images, colors, and other aspects.

4)

Suggestion -“Powered by IPL” can be inserted into the footer as well.

Insight – Techies, which forms a large chunk of the IPL user base, are familiar with such mentions and can tend to expect such details in the footer. A simple yet effective touch point for users!

5)

Suggestion – Most sites and applications have the logo on the top left as clickable.

Insight – This ensures that if the user is lost, he/she can return to the home page. The term Shareathon, could be made clickable.

6)

Suggestion – The design of the voting buttons could be changed.

InsightStrangely, users came back asking that they had followed the speakers and if that would be considered as a vote. With social media already a key part of multiple lives. this came as a very surprising insight to me. There are still users out there who are not comfortable with the concept of up vote / down vote. In this case, the design could be changed a bit and A/B tested to figure out a better option for the users.

Ok, so what’s next?

Read on to know more