Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Failures, Problem Solving and an honest effort!

While we often talk about successes and failures, I started to think if and when I have experienced a real feeling of failure! It was difficult to get any remembrance of such a feeling!


Before you jump with your guns aimed at me, believe me I have gone thru more than my share of problems in both personal and professional life (e.g. trying to improve my communication, picking up a new methodology etc.).


The only reason why in spite of having several failures and some mega ones at times, this feeling of failure does not come in is because of some key aspects that are ingrained in several of us. The attribute of problem solving and the ability to put an honest effort on everything that we are involved in!


Fixing things, finding solutions rather than focusing on the obstacles is an important element of problem solving. An analytical mind that is so crucial for the  role of a software engineer irrespective of the function that we contribute in, plays a part too.


For me the approach to problem solving was best summed by none other than Albert Einstein, when he said “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend 59 minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it”. There cannot be a better way to summarize the importance of understanding the problem and then going on to solve it.


There are various strategies for problem solving, one or more are used amongst a list of several like abstraction, analogy, hypothesis testing, root cause, divide and conquer etc. The key here is to have an aptitude for structured thinking and an approach that allows one to attack the problem in different ways.


The second is well and truly a personal trait that many of us are able to demonstrate when we are focused on or are passionate about something that we want to achieve. The challenge is to be able to repeat this in a consistent manner on many more things that one is working on and the results become dramatically different. This is also driven by the environment, the culture in which one finds oneself either at work or in their personal sphere.


An environment where there is all round excellence, there are a vast majority of colleagues who are putting in an honest effort, the ability to seek support and keep at it is much more. A high performance work ethic revolves around this peer buddy mechanism to bring the right level of application from each individual and therefore better all round results.


Where this honest effort becomes crucial is when things don’t go right, when the outcomes take longer than expected, when the results are not in line with the expectations. It helps reinforce the thought process that one needs to keep trying different problem solving strategies and the outcomes will begin to appear favorable. It allows the person the benefit of not getting bogged down easily and therefore letting one to ask oneself if they are continuing to put in their best effort each day. The peer buddy mechanism then plays its part perfectly well here. The feeling that one is putting their best effort each day is extremely empowering, it provides a great deal of confidence and further enhances chances of success.


So there goes, focus on the problems at hand, understand the problem, apply one or more of the strategies for problem solving and see to it that you are putting in your best effort, each day, consistently!

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Great Customer Service...

While reading this wonderful story again about how Sainsbury changed the name of their bread from Tiger bread to Giraffe bread based on feedback apparently from a 3.5 year young customer, it occurred to me, we as a team do several things that go on to define how we treat our internal and external customers and partners. <more about the Sainsbury story here>.


There are many such stories about organizations like Ritz Carlton and other small, medium and large enterprises going that extra mile to make the customers feel special. In majority of the cases, one could almost see a pattern of no real investments or $ spent but just a little amount of situational awareness, quick decision making, acknowledging the problems and doing what it takes to solve the problem on part of the people involved.


As a unit our vision clearly articulates the importance of being a "respected partner", while a good deal of this respect comes through demonstration of clear thought process, knowledge and content on the relevant topics and the ability to apply these in the context of the business problems, a large part of it is also about how we deal with our customers (internal as well as external).


Sound customer service largely emanates from the most important enabler at an individual level and that is empowerment. The more empowered we feel the more we can do as individuals for our customers. The decision making is faster, the decisions are made with the customer at the core of it, the alignment of goals/objectives is then well and truly complete and comprehensive.


In our roles, each one of us has contributions to make from the perspective of how our customers feel about the interactions they have with us. Our contributions can range from being able to direct our teams to taking specific actions on the ground, all intended to make our customers feel delighted and see value in several ways like:-

1.       Being proactive to make the customer feel we are as eager as them to get them the solution

2.       Making efforts to understand the problem at hand, get the big picture and evolve the value dimension

3.       Being aware of the timelines to get to the solution, since it will impact the customer or their business

4.       Reaching out to our network for solutions, believe me we seldom encounter "new" problems!

5.       Ensuring relevance of the solution, reviews and quick feedback are a good way to see things are on track

6.       Involving ourselves in taking the solution forward…Practice, don't just preach!



There are more ways that each one of us practice every single working day. I am sure the most important stakeholder – our customer, does not get those vow moments just like that. There is a great deal of hard work, meticulous planning and individual effort that goes into making it happen. While we continue to enhance our processes, tools and techniques, people need an equal amount of attention as a key to creating these vow moments, not as a one off but an ongoing behavior. The culture then is an outcome of repeated successes and definite processes that are part of the work ethic and peoples habits.


I am certain you have your own customer service stories, several of these would rank and rate amongst the best in the world. Do respond with those details and post the stories that can go on to inspire us all!

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Is there too much technology right now?

While I frequently write and speak about technology and the manner in which it has helped improve things in several aspects of our lives, there are things that I feel also could be tagged as negatives arising out of either a wrong or an unwise adoption of it.

While communication technology and devices, including smart phones have created near unlimited options for us to stay connected, collaborate and keep ourselves and others up to date on the latest, these could also mean some forms of distractions when one is really required to focus hard on the task at hand.

Do you ever feel the urge to often check for new incoming mails on your email? Do you often get “ping’ed” by colleagues on the messenger or communicator while you are in the middle of something important? Do you often feel it necessary to respond to these chat requests even though you are in another call?

The distractions can be of several kind and could have a clear impact on work especially those days and times when you are trying to close on something important. It could lead to meetings being ineffective, where while someone is making important points, few attendees are busy checking their Blackberry’s and iPhones for the latest new arrivals on their mail or even tweeting the most recent updates to one and all!

In this context one small piece of news caught my attention few days back, where a restaurant in LA is giving 5% discount on the bill for those who agree to keep their phones and digital devices away at the door[Los Angeles Times].

Something for us to give a thought at the workplace too, are there too many of these distractions creeping in to hold people from having meaningful conversations, bringing in the right amount of attention and focus?

Friday, July 06, 2012

The NEXT Quality professional

The NEXT Quality professional

I wrote on “Traits of the Newage Software Quality Professional” for an ASQ blog back in 2007. I had touched upon several aspects that were crucial elements in the evolution of the Quality role in Software. I felt it was necessary to revisit this since much water has flown under the bridge since 2007. Technology has changed for good as predicted by many, businesses are thinking on different paradigms, the world is a different place altogether and changing rapidly, business models are being re aligned, economies are under pressure for a while now and no one knows exactly when we might be back amidst the good old days.

The role of the Quality professional and the expectations from the role too have undergone significant changes and while we lead in some of these aspects there are other areas that we need to speed up on.

The NEXT Quality professional, as I would like to call one would have to demonstrate an apt understanding of Business, People, Processes, Technology & Management. While specialization would always cater to specifics the normal Quality professional would be required to demonstrate skills and competencies in the 5 categories mentioned above.

Business must necessarily drive the process and therefore I put this as the first category on the list just to emphasize the importance of the role business has to play in the entire process game. Here are the skills and competencies that the NEXT Quality professional would be required to demonstrate today, to stay in the hunt.

Business drives the process…

·         There is a great deal of difficulty CxO’s have with the dwindling understanding of folks down the line on matters of business. It’s crucial to understand the objectives of the organization you are part of – a B2C organization would have a different model than a B2B organization, but nevertheless its objectives need to be understood by the Quality professional. The NEXT Quality professional will not only understand the objectives of the organization well but also articulate initiatives to strengthen these and impact these objectives in a positive manner. For example, if growth is a priority for your organization you need to focus on highlighting value paradigms, differentiators to your sales teams more actively than remaining hidden in the backroom focusing on purely on operations.

·         Even more important is to understand the business of one of your organization’s most important stakeholders – Your customer! Understanding of the clients business would ensure the NEXT Quality professional is able to guide and provide consultation to the project/account teams with a clear view of client relevance.

·         With a clear understanding of the Domain and Operations, the NEXT Quality professional would be in a position to carry out improvements in existing processes thereby improving organization efficiency and effectiveness. Suffice to say some of these initiatives could be transformational and would need sponsorship from the CxO level leadership.
People First…Always

·         A large part of the NEXT Quality professionals work would involve interacting with people across levels in the hierarchy and horizontal roles that cut across functions and groups. The extent of collaboration required would be of the highest order and a clear focus on people as a Quality strategy is a must. Collaboration would largely be a means to achieve greater connect with clients, sales and delivery teams, enabler functions, vendors etc. to ensure sustained client value assurance. People connect would ensure the NEXT Quality professional is able to manage Diverse, multicultural and geographically distributed teams as a matter of routine.

·         A related aspect of people connect is the ability to listen, gather inputs, analyze feedback and plough it back into the processes. The NEXT Quality professional would be in a position to slice and dice information associated with inputs, strengthen listening mechanisms with various stakeholders and use it as a competitive advantage.
Processes, Models & Frameworks are the building blocks…

·         A sound foundation of standards, frameworks and models is crucial to have an understanding of the inner workings of specific and generic practices that are an essential starting point. This understanding ensures the NEXT Quality professional is able to use the know how to adequately tailor and customize processes to deliver the desired value.

·         The NEXT Quality professional would not only focus on the theoretical aspects of process definitions as process groups are often involved in, but would need to usher in a more practical perspective with the right blend of process steps automated with the right tools. The understanding of best of breed tools would enable the NEXT Quality professional to bring in true innovations in the process steps.
Technology at the core…

·         Technology today is at the center of several innovations and as an industry we are both involved in creating some of these innovations as well as leveraging few others for our competitive advantage. The NEXT Quality professional would not only have adequate understanding of the technology but would also be able to leverage it to enhance the effectiveness of various initiatives and programs for larger organization success.

·         The NEXT Quality professional would use Technology as an Enabler for driving key decisions and building new process innovations that are centered on the technology core. Tools and Technology then would work as glue for the methodology to unleash its impact across a wider base including employees, clients, vendors etc.
Management – Self as well as for others…

·         Management is a core skill for a Quality professional. The NEXT Quality professional would not only utilize this skill to the fullest extent but would specialize in certain dimensions that are going to play a vital role in the larger organization success. The NEXT Quality professional would be a Change Agent exemplar! Someone who has the ability to conceptualize, plan, organize and orchestrate large scale improvements across accounts/projects/businesses. These would encompass initiatives that cut across domain, technology, process and people.

·         A significant dimension of Leadership is the ability to not only do things for you but also help others do things for themselves. This sort of enabling people in the near environment would mean the NEXT Quality professional has to involve in large scale trainings and development sessions that would influence not only the way people work but also the way people think about concepts, processes and paradigms.

·         Knowledge being the foundation for the success of the NEXT Quality professional, Knowledge management would play a vital role in terms of determining new capabilities, faster better and cheaper ways to enhance these capabilities and also scale up the ability to do this in a repeatable manner across large number of people distributed across the globe.
The question to ask today is - Are you the NEXT quality professional that every organization is seeking to induct?

If yes, you have a wonderful future ahead of you and it’s filled with opportunities of extreme learning, experiences in value creation and tasks that enrich yourself as an individual. If no, you still have time, it’s never too late to prepare for the future. Remember, if you can’t invent the future, you could at least prepare for what someone else is going to invent. Think Apple, they did not invent the type face fonts, mouse, user interface, portable music player, PC etc. they just used existing innovations better than others.

Let us brace ourselves for the journey ahead to be the NEXT Quality professional!

©Naresh Choudhary

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Women's Day - Women Rule - Every day, Everywhere & Every time

The fact that women rule is evident every day, everywhere and every time. In my case for example, I was supposed to write this blog yesterday evening/night. Two women who rule my life did not desire so and there you go I had to scribble this today morning in 10 minutes between 2 update meetings with the team!

I look around and am filled with admiration for the talent and application that women around me demonstrate day in and day out. They are masters when it comes to multitasking – several of my women colleagues have to juggle multiple responsibilities and the ease with which they manage to do this without ever losing focus is not only commendable but also something worth emulating.

They can listen better than their male counterparts – several examples come to mind where women managers around me have shown tremendous patience and listening skills to put another colleague to ease in tough situations.

There are many situations @ work that require one to look for alternatives and options, I have always found women colleagues far more open to new suggestions and options and this I believe is a wonderful trait that can help one thrive in today’s tough times.

Impact and outcome are amongst my more commonly used words, they mean a lot in today’s business environment, I find women a lot more focused on the impact and outcome of their initiatives and this is something they are able to demonstrate without having to try hard.

I associate a proactive approach with the basic tenets of professionalism, a large number of my women colleagues are able to demonstrate pro-activeness in a manner that would make it seem like its second nature to them.

Being well organized and having a plan in place is many a times as good as getting half the work done, even before you begin! Our women colleagues have a tendency to look at every task, assignment and plan ahead and organize things upfront and that helps them get ahead even before the task is begun.

A strong character and will are fundamental for success today. Several of my women colleagues, demonstrate both with ease and stand out for their mental strength & toughness.

I could go on and on, but must stop here, there are few women colleagues waiting for me in the room next door for my next meeting, I got to go – Women rule…let there be no doubt! J

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year 2012

Here's wishing you all a very Happy, Healthy, Safe & Prosperous New Year 2012!

Live and Let Live! Have Fun! Be Yourself! Be a Good Human Being!

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

"People who don't feel significant, rarely make significant contributions" - Mark Sanborn

“People who don't feel significant, rarely make significant contributions” - Mark Sanborn

This quote by Mark Sanborn has made an indelible impression on my mind. I write this with the realization that I see the quote being not only meaningful but also providing visibility into things that we see around us practically every single day.

I have always found individuals who are proud of what they do, their role, the work they do and the group and unit they belong to. Invariably these are also individuals who think of themselves as significant, as important.

On the other hand there are individuals who are not so proud, they want to keep under wraps the work they do, they are not very keen talking about their real role, they do not seem readily willing to disclose the team and the unit they are part of. One part of me thinks this is simply a shy individual, another sees an individual who is not confident about himself/herself, someone who is not very sure about the work they do, someone who does not “like” to be associated with the team and the unit.

My mind then goes back to performance – which is at the heart of it all! Can such an individual who is not confident, not sure, does not like to be associated with the team and the unit be able to accomplish something substantial? With the kinds of expectations and the fact that these are also ever increasing, Can such individuals understand these goals and expectations and exceed them through their passion, hard work, determination and a go-getter attitude? Seems like a task, but in my experience it would be extremely difficult and in majority of the cases the results would be failure to perform at par.

Would these individuals who are not so proud….etc. never perform well? Not really, these individuals are also those that are amongst the once most scared and this fear makes them perform at par. But this performance would be in areas where one is seeking performance for compliance, someone who has to stick to a routine, follow a standard work pattern etc. When it comes to creating something innovative, questioning the status quo, changing things the way they have happened in the past, taking risks, taking the lead, these individuals would ideally have a very tough time. The cynicism that stitches around oneself when one is not proud of what they do, would stifle away the initiative that is required to do these things.

If we notice the pattern of things that have worked well around us and those that have fizzled out or haven’t had expected success, we could clearly notice this difference. These are also insights one needs to carry while one begins a new initiative or hires individuals for specific roles.

One advantage we have in our teams is that we largely have people of the first kind, those who are proud of what they do, sure about themselves and confident about the things that they wish to accomplish! No wonder then that we should see a lot more success in the days to come!

Be a proud Quality professional, take pride in what you do and do not hesitate to talk about your role and work with the confidence that it deserves the next time you meet someone!

My name is Naresh Choudhary, I Head the Tools Group and I am part of the Quality and Prodcutivity Unit @ Infosys Ltd.