Monday, October 24, 2011

What can professionals in Quality learn from Steve Jobs & Apple!

Most of us are aware of the life and Times of Steve Jobs, amongst one of the most influential minds of our times. Last week, like millions who paid their respects, I tweeted and blogged on Steve and the impact he has had.
A thought that there are several lessons we could learn from the way Steve Jobs made decisions, in particular the Quality community could gain from the Jobs and Apple insights. Here goes.
  • Imagine and Create the Future:-
    • There aren’t too many better examples of this than Jobs. The Innovations that Jobs and team created were things that one could never ever accomplish through Client Surveys, Market Research etc. [am not suggesting these are not required, but they have their own purpose of helping understand what clients need and they serve that purpose well]. Jobs imagined and more importantly created these things taking a big leap ahead of the rest of the competition. All this with the client in mind all the time!
    • For us this means along with looking at current conventional models and frameworks, imagining what can be and attempting to create the future state with the client in mind – both internal customers and external clients. This applies to all the services and offerings that we are currently engaged in, are creating and are planning to create in the near term.
  • Style and Design make a lot of difference
    • I am sure all Apple products have their own share of issues and these issues have at times surfaced with the larger client base, but one thing that keep these products creating the impact that they are known to create is the fact that design, form and style is absolutely amazing. The client experience of using these products is something that oozes with great usability and design.
    • For us it means again keeping the client central to what we do, at the same time paying enough and more attention to things like usability, design that go on to differentiate a good product from an average and an great product from a good one. Process designs, definitions, system design etc. all can be made better and user friendly if they are created with the client in mind – in our case the project and project teams rather than us.
  •  Speed is important, timing is crucial too
    • We all like to move fast, but along with the speed and agility that Jobs and team have shown, they were also masters of timing. The skill required here is quite contrary to that of “speed”, it requires waiting for the right moment and Jobs and team used timing very well. It means they understood when was  the right time for the product to make an entry, get the mind share and also create a positive impact for the organization. It also meant they were prepared to make the move and therefore had done all the preparation in advance to be able to leverage and seize the moment.
    • For us who are in the game of change management, this could mean an important lesson. Timing here, especially in our context also refers to the way we plan, organize and then implement the proposed changes. While speed and agility in the manner in which we design, define, create and implement the processes is important, timing is crucial too. For example, if the process/process changes are launched at a time when the particular offering is taking shape and getting into the market, it creates a far more positive outcome for everyone involved including our internal customers than say waiting for a long period of time and then launching a process for the offering – both speed and timing play a big role.
  • We’re all marketers now!!!
    • When I first read this McKinsey article in July 2011, I was kind of thinking of 2 instances one a person I know who would not stop selling his wares even if confronted with the most challenging of conditions, second the more refined and fine-tuned approach that Jobs and team have taken at Apple. The famed Apple product launches are an amazing example of how the drama unfolds for the product and the setting where the features are unveiled. The other important aspect of marketing is to be truthful to the product and the brand promise, Apple seldom makes promises about the product that the product actually does not do or possess.
    • A great process should promise and more importantly deliver an improvement in capability for the organization. The gap between this promise and the actual delivery is what marketing cannot and should not try to bridge but if at all there is a gap, Engineering should bridge that gap and not marketing. This is an important lesson because I find many people assuming and asking if we can launch a campaign (marketing!) to ensure better deployment (selling!). Well a product first needs to fulfill the brand and the product promise and then good marketing helps, else we are staring at trouble for the future! More importantly understanding and segmenting customers is important not simply from the point of view of their differentiated needs, but also to ensure you don’t get overawed by the segmentation and continue to offer something for all the segments you cater to – DM, DH, PM, SE etc…
  • Never underestimate the importance of Learning
    • As all of us are aware, there have been failures at Apple as well, products have not worked as expected, things have gone haywire with features, defective pieces etc. The important part is Apple has always been able to bounce back and this I believe is a must have trait for a successful corporation. Jobs personally has always been known to apply learning’s from the past to get his products to become better – the type face fonts, the mouse etc. are vibrant and noteworthy examples. Apple has demonstrated its ability to learn from the past and integrate the lessons learned into making the products better.
    • Any Quality process follows the approach of PDCA/ETVX/ADLI or something on these lines, it essentially means that we are continuously looking at aspects in the process that can be improved and integrated back. The importance of this is a direct impact since an improvement in the processes provides a larger, scalable improvement in the organization capability and this no business can grow without!
  • Open up to new developments
    • Apple was always able to ride the waves of new trends, developments. Many of the things that Jobs and Apple went on to create, were actually not invented at Apple. They just created “better”, “superior” and “client focused” solutions from existing or emerging technologies that put them steps ahead of others. This, they were able to do by a relentless focus on observing, thinking through and absorbing new trends and changes and riding on the waves relatively early.
    • In our world, where client requirements continue to change and change rapidly, the challenges of keeping pace with new developments is always staring us in the eye! We need to take the Apple approach of creating a way in which we understand the trends in new processes and models early, leverage it for bettering our offerings and do not ignore the trends assuming that we are better than the others. Complacency and rigid attitude to new and upcoming trends could be big factor that could derail successful enterprises in the future.
  • Hold your own against pressures
    • Failures create a lot of pressure, but success creates if not more an equal amount of pressure as well. Jobs and Apple have seen both and therefore both the kinds of pressures – Of success and failures. They were able to withstand these pressures, do what was right and come out with the kind of consistent success that they have demonstrated over the years.
    • Most of us face these pressures from our internal clients, our teams, partners etc. The pressures create a decision window where one way leads to a path that is easier, treaded by many, more comfortable and convenient, the other path is a tougher one, least treaded, uncomfortable. As change agents we need to be willing to take the path least treaded, once we know that it is the RIGHT thing and for the long term benefit of the organization. Let us not back off, but demonstrate courage!
These are my personal views, send in your responses if you have any thoughts to share, will be more than happy to discuss.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Steve Jobs - What a Life! RIP...

Most of us are trained to look at things in a conventional mould!

When it comes to launching new products, initiatives, businesses the tried and tested approaches are to study the market, study consumer behaviours, understand what the consumers want and then create an offering that can satisfy these!

In comes Steve Jobs, who decides what consumers should be getting sitting in Cupertino! All the world laps up whatever is on offer from Jobs in a manner and way unheard of in the history of products. All of it without the conventional market research, surveys etc.

You are an inspiration to many all over the world and thank you for everything that you have created!

Rest in Peace - Mr. Jobs!

Is the Apple iPhone strategy flawed? - Let me know your views...

I am trained to plan, think long term and have a more rounded view of things with the big picture in mind. This training has stood me good for some years now, but there is still a chance that I may be a bit off the track here, nevertheless!
The top 4 platforms that everyone seems to agree upon as the more popular ones are Android, iPhone, Blackberry and Windows. Of these 4 platforms, at least 2 are more or less proprietary and supported by individual organizations – Apple & RIM. Windows has been trying to take a more open view of things and has been trying to extend its footprint, but the marquee names in the mobile devices world haven’t yet embraced Windows with open arms, at least the numbers do seem to suggest so.

[Last 3 months, 56% of smartphones sold were on Android, Apple – 28%, Blackberry – 9% & Others – 6%]
What RIM’s Blackberry experienced early on is what I believe Apple – iPhone is currently experiencing in terms of consistently increasing sales revenues and a largely uncontested market share. But in the long term as competition heats up, would Apple be in a position to compete with say something like Android which is not one organization, one model but tens of organizations and hundreds of models sold by many providers. As far as conventional wisdom goes, the odds are definitely stacked against Apple, but like has been in the past we just need to wait and watch. Would Apple be in a position to shake up the humungous growth in the spread of Android as a platform? Should Apple really look at proliferation of its technologies to more partners and to the rest of the ecosystem that can help make it a multi organization, multi model sort of platform? What are the lesson’s Microsoft is learning from all of this?
My training tells me Apple could be given a run for its money and eventually brought down by something like Android. Time will tell though. If I am proven wrong, blame it on my training, beware my trainers are watching…err… reading.

MBNQA & India Governments response to Anna Hazare's movement

Being familiar (only familiar, there are Gurus who would review this more tactfully ) with Business Excellence frameworks like MBNQA. It was natural that repeat telecasts on several different TV channels on how the government botched up the opportunity to take the matter to closure when it comes to the arrest, offer to release, negotiation et al with respect to the anti-corruption crusade. Since MBNQA or any other Business excellence framework for that matter looks into how an organization identifies its customers and stakeholders, works closely with these including employees/work force, leveraging processes, measurements, systems & planning using a leadership driven approach to achieve the desired results. A different weightage on each of these highlighted items provides a balanced focus through the approach, deployment, results, learning & improvements across the organization.
When assessors assess a business with the MBNQA criteria they are very clear on the 4 broad patterns of scoring. Reacting to problems gives you anywhere between 0-25% of the score, early systematic approach gives 30-45%, aligned approach gives 50-65% while an integrated approach could give you 70-100% of the score.

If we analyze the Indian government’s response to the entire Anna Hazare episode, one would be able to clearly cancel out the last 3 patterns of scoring and focus on the 1st pattern i.e. 0-25% - reacting to problems. As an establishment that is supposed to provide for good governance and is supposed to be looking at the long term and short term welfare of its customers and stakeholders (read PEOPLE) scoring so poorly on the MBNQA criteria brings basic issues to the foreground.

Does this organization understand its target customers, customer groups(read PEOPLE) and market segments? Does it have sane and unbiased listening mechanisms in between 2 elections that are 5 years apart? Does it have mechanisms to anticipate the decisions of the customers(read PEOPLE) and their importance/value? Does it have the ability to use the feedback from the customers(read PEOPLE) and ensure their needs are satisfied? Does it have mechanisms to create/recreate new relationships?
There are many questions like these that come to the fore and this is just one of the 7 categories! If someone from the government reads this and wants help, I know exactly the kind of people who can help.
Believe me they would be more than willing to help