Wednesday, 31 October 2012

What is more important - process or people ?

Once upon a time, in the faraway land of India, there lived two brothers named Haldi and Ram. They played studied and grew up together to be fine young men. Though they were great friends and laughed and played together, they had a fundamental difference in their attitude towards work.

Says Haldi Brother Ram, let us  build a food joint where we will have an excellent process for preparing and serving food. Our process will be our USP”.

Says Ram: “ Process will not help us in growth. We will need skilled and dedicated people who will innovate and create delicacies leading to customer delight “

They hemmed and they hawed.
They argued and they fought.
They cribbed and they screamed.

When the wise old man, their father,  saw them sitting and sulking, he said  Sons!  during my hey days, I toiled hard and  saved from my meager income. Here is Rs 1000 for each of you.  Go out in the world and create wealth based on your ideas . But …. , one condition … ,  at the end of  a year, the one who is unsuccessful in making profit will have to do whatever I tell him to do

Haldi and Ram’s eyes shone with excitement ! Both of them touched their father’s feet and set out with dreams in their eyes and hope in their hearts.

The process oriented Haldi first chalked out a plan , budgeted the investments and in a month’s time , a cute little joint named “Haldis” was built.  Ram went to an expensive designer and he too erected a sweet little joint and called it “Rams”.

Ram hired the best chefs who were specialists in preparing delicious food. They were constantly doing research and tried and tested different concoctions, herbs and ingredients.  The chefs would challenge each other and try to prove they were the best amongst equals. The chefs wanted Ram to get them the best spices, the best material and the best cooking platforms. They would be extremely upset if these things were unavailable and would threaten to leave Rams. But the chefs were animated and excited about always working on new things and ideas.  Ram was happy to see the progress. He was confident that his vision would help him achieve his goals.

Haldi , in the meantime,  was busy chalking out the best processes. He hired some chefs who he knew and negotiated with them on their salary. He asked the senior chef to write the recipes which would be served at Haldi so that there would be standardization.  He meticulously planned the process flow. The customers would come in a queue and  place the order and pay for it. Once the payment is received,  the customer would take the copy of the receipt to the counter. The receipts would have different color coding  to differentiate between different food groups. The counters would have labeling mentioned clearly on them to avoid confusion. The counters would be divided such that as soon as the receipt is handed to the chef, they would immediately prepare the food without wasting time.  This done, he was all set to win his customer’s hearts.

One fine morning, Haldi called out “ Ahoy ! Come one , come all to Haldis ! Eat and enjoy to your hearts content! You will get the best food here in reasonable prices !”

Ram called out “Friends, Indians and Countrymen! Come and taste India’s finest delicacies at Rams ! You will not be able to forget the exotic taste and flavor! “

And people came to Haldis
And people came to Rams.

Days weeks and some months passed  by …..

Rams customers were delighted with range of offerings. But they were unhappy with the high prices and the turnaround time of the orders placed. They were irritated and sometimes stunned about the inconsistency and unpredictability of the food served to them. The dishes were exotic and they loved the taste, but when they came back for the second or third time and ordered for it, a very different preparation would be served. When the customers complained, the chef was called and he explained in detail about the intricate procedure why the serving had not turned out to be as per the customer’s expectation! The dedicated and talented chefs would argue with Ram for not providing enough information!

Haldis customers were ecstatic about the service. and they were very happy with the price. Everything seemed to be like clockwork. They did not waste time in placing orders and neither did they have to wait long for the food to be served. But alas! The food was bland and tasteless. The toppings and accessories were neither innovative nor interesting!

And days, weeks and eleven months passed by…..

Both Haldi and Ram were crest fallen! They had incurred huge losses!

Both of them went to the wise old man, their father, and stood before him with shame and despair on their faces.  Their father listened and then placed Haldi and Rams hands on each other and said Sons! Go and establish Haldirams! Take the last Rs 2000 which I had kept aside for this day, and I know that this time you will succeed !

Tears rolled down the brothers cheeks. They embraced each other and with renewed vigor they set out with dreams in their eyes and hope in their hearts.

Rams’ expert chefs documented their exotic, intricate and unique recipes and trained Haldis chefs. Haldis‘ workers ensured that Rams’ personnel followed the process of food preparation so that there is predictability. Some of the expert chefs were designated to do constant research so that the menu may be revised periodically to make it innovative, in tune with the changing needs of the customer and at the same time is profitable to Haldirams.  

And lo and behold !

Customers started pouring in. they praised the taste of the food and were extremely satisfied about the value for money. They were excited about the different choices which were offered by Haldirams and they wanted to come back again and again! The chefs and the staff were happy and within a year the brothers inaugurated several other outlets of  Haldirams.  

And the wise old man smiled!   And Haldi and Ram lived happily ever after….

Did they? Yes, they did but they were constantly improving the quality of food and service. Even to this day, their great-great-great-great –great- grandsons are on the path of continuous improvement. They constantly seek feedback from their customers and act on it.

The last time I visited Haldirams I noticed that the receipt had been perforated so that the customer is not inconvenienced in having to tear them unevenly to be presented to different counters. And the wooded counter dividers had been replaced with glass so that there is complete transparency and the customers can verify the hygiene.

Author's comments: Though the story is fictitious, Haldirams does exist. It is a very popular and profitable food joint . with several outlets in India. And all the processes mentioned above including hygiene are an integral part of Haldirams.   I am sure all of us can draw the simile between Haldirams and software development ? No? Then please contact me  :-)  .......

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

10 Commandments for managing Knowledge Workers

  • Effective Communication :  Over communication is always better than less communication. Hold as many one-to-one touch-base meetings as possible. This helps in better understanding , empathy building and rapport.
  • Proximity Effect :  Co-locate the team as far as possible. Create War rooms. Just pack them in and see the teamwork improve.
  • Data-driven decision Making : Let the data talk. Strive to draw the conclusions using data and derive your decisions from it as objectively as possible. 
  • Use Technology for co-ordination : Keep the people talking by using technology like instant chat , web cams and video conferencing.  These are very effective for distributed virtual teams and acts as grease for team co-ordination.
  • Help them succeed : Make it easy and not hard, for them to perform and succeed.
  • Eat your own dog-food - Make sure to use your own company products. This helps in enhancing the pride for the organization.
  • Encourage Creativity :  Let them come up with creative ideas.  Listen to their ideas - even if they are bizarre and absurd ! Encourage them and implement the ideas if it helps the project. Being democratic works wonders !
  • Consensus wins :  Decision making by consensus works very well with the knowledge workers. Try to make about 75% of the decisions by consensus. 
  • Respect and Integrity : Treat them with respect and integrity. 
  • Hire by committee : Make sure that the new recruits talk to their future colleagues. This helps a lot in  building teamwork.

Can you add anything more to the list  ?

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Can you always be happy ?

I read this story a few years back and I tell this during my Motivational Presentations.

This is the story of a balding woman ailing with cancer, who looked at the mirror one day and saw that she was left with only three hairs  !

So , that day she told herself  "Today I will make a braid"  She braided her three hairs and had  a fun-filled and happy day.

The day after, she saw that she had only two hairs . "Well , I will part my hair down the middle today ! " She did that, smiled  and had a grand day !

The next day she woke up and looked at the mirror. She had only one hair left. "Hmm " She said "Today is the ponytail day !"  She made a ponytail, laughed loudly and had a blast .

The next day she woke up and looked at the mirror. She did not have any hair left!
"Yay ! " She exclaimed ! "I don't have to do my hair today !"

Life is a song, sing it ! 

“You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” 

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Effective Meetings

There have been several occasions when I have sat through meetings which went on and on and finally when it ended, no one had a clue about what happened or what were the next course of action ! 

Meetings are an integral part of  business. Conducting an effective meeting is an art. The facilitator or the organizer should have the necessary skills to conduct meetings which will bring about some decisions or results. The following are some tips from my experiences : 

  • Have a well defined Agenda :  This is the cornerstone of an effective meeting. The agenda should be crisp, precise and to the point.  When the meeting invite is being sent , the Agenda should be mentioned in it and if possible, each agenda point should have a planned duration mentioned against it. 

  • Time, time. time :  Always start and end the meeting on time.  Starting late is not an excuse for ending late.  For cross functional meetings which included a large number of participants , if needed , a gentle reminder can be sent on the previous day. It is a good practice to put a reminder( 15 min)  in the meeting invite. And what sometimes worked for me is that when I had to  wait for some people, I used to count the number of people waiting for them and wrote how many person hours were wasted waiting for the late-comers. I wrote it on the white board ! And it sure worked. The latecomers were always on time after that. 

  • Assign Ownership :  All meetings should have some action items or deliverables.  The action items should have owners assigned to them with a planned target date. If the meeting is a recurring one , then these action items should be tracked in the meeting and the owners should be answerable for these. Do remember that multiple ownership does not work. Have a single owner.

  • Decision Maker :  Discussions and different point of views  should be encouraged in meetings,  but sometimes the situation becomes chaotic.  In such circumstances, have a clear decision maker. But do make sure that the meeting members understand that whatever decision is being taken in the meeting , should be endorsed by everybody when they leave the meeting. Any disagreements should be tackled in follow-up meetings. 
  • "KISS" :  Keep It Short and Simple ! As far as possible , try to keep the meeting short , have fewer people and agenda items. I have seen people lose interest and stop contributing after 30 minutes. It is also important to select the meeting participants appropriately. People should understand "what is it in for me ?" 

  • Summarize : The best option is to create Minutes of the meeting (MOM). The next best thing is to summarize the discussion points, action items and deliverables in  an email/memo and send it to all the participants right after the meeting. 

  • Have fun :  Last but not at the least, infuse humor wherever appropriate. Make the meeting interesting by good presentations, graphs, emoticons and smiles. 

Happy meetings ! 

Cheers !