Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year!


It has been a beautiful marathon walk
And to stay course requires steadiness of a rock;
As the time to turn the page draws near
A sense of happiness eagerly invites the New Year!

~Narendra V Joshi

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

A closer look at Processes, and Innovation


For ages, the local kirana stores have served main stream for most families, rich or poor, across India. The success of these kirana stores depended on their owners’ understanding of the customers and their needs, in that locality. For most parts the owners did this understanding part exceedingly well. Customers on their part were mostly loyal to the local kirana store as they had grown to specific product brands which they would always find in these stores. The strength for the stores came in the form of stable price and predictable product quality coupled with the short term ‘faith’ loans they provided to their loyal customers. These loans which were mostly interest free and purely on faith played a major role in retaining the customers. The drawbacks of these stores however were the extremely limited product range and the sluggish response time to stock a newly launched product.

The Indian economic reforms which were brought out in the early 90s set path a big change in terms of how the customer shopped. The free flow of money meant customers were asking for newer and better products, fast. Frequent product launch became a norm and the product variety grew exponentially. Customers wanted to see and compare the products before they would buy.
This meant -
          1)      Customers were interested in newer and broader range of products than a predictable small range.
          2)      Product innovation, product procurement and product distribution (time to customer) had to be continuously and radically improved.
          3)      Product availability increased and customer retention became more important.  

All these meant that the local Kirana stores no more had a place in the locality or at least their share was reduced. To overcome these new challenges, the Kirana stores had to set aside their standard operating procedure and get into a more agile and innovative model to reach the customer.  
          1)      They had to widen their supplier portfolio to ensure every new product reached their shelves, quick.
          2)      Remodel their stores
          3)      And more importantly, use Innovative ways to attract the customer.

Stores which did not change mostly were either closed or saw a revenue plateau. The interesting aspect is that some ‘legacy’ Kirana stores continue/d to exist without any change,
          1)      Owing to the locality they were located
          2)      Or by serving those customers who were in a hurry and did not have time to go around a bigger retail shop.
          3)      Or maybe the owner was satisfied with revenue generated.

Having worked for more than a decade in IT outsourcing and knowing the working of many IT services companies; each having varied degree of adherence to standard IT processes, I tried to correlate the working of Kirana stores with some IT services companies. I first separated the IT services companies into the ones which have their own R&D and the ones which do not have their own R&D. When I compared the IT services companies which do not have their own R&D with a Kirana store, I found many similarities.  

Note – I have only listed a few similarities. They do not essentially mean one is same as the other. Also these are generic observations and should not be taken in context to any particular IT organization or a Kirana store.

          1)      IT services companies have a limited range of services (mostly based on the technology).
          2)      They follow a standard process (software development process) which helps them achieve a       predictable model leading to a standard output.
          3)      They know their customers and most often suit their processes to their customers. (For ex - change their finance calendar based on customer recoverable dates).
          4)      If a customer demands a non-standard way to execute a project or a technology that the IT servicing company does not deal with, the IT companies most often have to make changes to their internal process before they can serve the customer.

One point that stands high, in my opinion, which is not necessarily derived in correlation to the Kirana store, is the innovation that can happen, rather the lack of it, in companies which adhere to processes.
Having processes is good as they help give a predictable output but they also hinder innovation, in my opinion. Generating new ideas or finding newer ways to achieve objectives become extremely limited in a well-developed process environment. The reason for this obstruction to creativity is most often the process itself, because any well-established process will be tuned to identify and highlight risks. The process senses any new idea as a deviation and treats it as a risk i.e. essentially no new ideas or drastic changes can occur. If there is an idea, most often it is limited in scope or is mostly developed as an output for a specific requirement.

This, in my opinion, to a great extent explains why we rarely see an innovative product from a pure IT services company. (Indian IT servicing companies are forefront in following the quality processes often maintaining the highest ratings).

If you ask me is it bad not to be innovative, then my answer will be ‘No, it is not’. If you can make money servicing products, it’s still a perfectly good business model. Haven’t many automobile repair centers thrived only on oil changes and tire rotations? So will these pure IT services companies.

If the question is how long can an IT services company look at only services, then it is until the company hits the bell curve plateau. It is important for companies to sense the plateau early and change gears to get back on the growth line. The companies need to arrive at newer ways to increase revenue. It might be by broadening service lines, tapping new markets or by launching products. 

Do we need processes at all?
The simple answer to this question is ‘Yes, processes are required’. Remember innovation is not the end game. Putting the product to production and bringing it to the market in time determines the success of the product, and this requires stringent processes. Not having a set process in the production stage leads to disastrous results. So it is extremely important to have a set and predictable process in place.

It’s important to understand when are processes important and when can they be detrimental. It is also important for companies to understand that innovation is not a process and it’s not predictable. A company without innovation plateaus soon, much like those Kirana stores which avoided change.

~Narendra V Joshi

Friday, September 13, 2013

Doomsday


I walked to the bus stop this morning at my usual time to catch the office bus. I prefer this bus as it’s the first bus of the day, the traffic is less and there are not more about 10 people who take it. Upon reaching the bus stop I saw that instead of the usual group there was only one person.

[Let me pause and explain something interesting about the folks who board the bus at my stop. I have never seen any of them talk to each other. Neither have I spoken to any; until today. The interesting part is that most greet each other only by a faint facial nod accompanied by a faint smile. And in the last 4 months that I have been taking this bus, all I have done is adopt this way of greeting making no attempt to change or greet better. Regarding the facial nod greeting we do, I have often wondered if my eye lids travel a longer distance in their usual blinking activity compared to my face when I greet others at the bus stop every morning.]

We greeted each other with our usual faintest facial nod possible and stood there to wait for the bus. The bus which is usually on time did not come even after 10 mins of its scheduled time today.  As we stood, I noticed that this colleague seemed anxious. He would glance at his watch every few seconds and would look in the direction of the bus. I thought he was late for a meeting or a client call. Wanting to start a conversation, I looked at him and said -

Me – The bus is late today
Colleague Yes 

(I had not expected a Yes/No answer from him. I thought since we had been greeting each other for the last few months, he would give an extended answer which will lead to a good conversation. But his ‘Yes’ lead me no where. Having made up my mind to talk to him, I did not want to give up so easily).

Me – It’s usually on time. Haven’t seen it this late
Colleague – Yes…(after a brief phase) You can expect anything today right?
Me – today? (I was confused)
Colleague – Yes, today. You can expect anything to happen and you have to be prepared
(Now I was really lost)

Me – 
Okay (I gave a puzzled look at him)
Colleague – have you forgotten? Today is Friday the 13th
Me – Okay (I wanted to ask “So?”)
Colleague – Moreover the year is 2013. So it’s Friday the 13th in 13.

(Suddenly it occurred to me that there is some taboo associated with Friday the 13th)

Me – Oh correct.. (Not wanting to show my ignorance, I nodded my head)

He did not say anything and I had no clue what to say. Actually what could I say? I don’t believe in these things and I had not expected the conversation to go this way. If Friday the 13th was really a dooms day, the earth should have evaporated by now.

Our office bus arrived in the meanwhile and we both headed towards it. As we reached the bus, he looked at me and said –

Colleague – Be careful, today is not a good day. Don’t think its superstition; the whole world believes it.
Me – Okay (I smiled at him)

Once inside the bus, I tried to recall what had just happened. He was right in way. All I wanted to do was to talk to a colleague whom I see every day. But of all the days in the year, I had initiated the conversation on Friday the 13th which ensured I never initiate a conversation with him again. Friday the 13th is truly a dooms day.


~Narendra V Joshi

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Life’s lucky things


I was returning home from office the other day when I met this old friend. It had been some years the last time I had seen him and we got into talking. We spoke of our work and how we have been doing. More than the work or the technologies we were working on, what actually caught my attention was the shirt he was wearing. It was a neatly pressed white full sleeve shirt, but, very clearly one size less. Maybe he had put on a lot of weight after he had bought that shirt. Having known him since my engineering days, I took liberty and asked him why he was wearing that snugly fitting shirt. He put a faint smile looking at his shirt and said “this is my lucky shirt. Everything I do wearing this shirt has been a success”. Seems he was looking for a different job and had been for an interview earlier that day.

Having known him from my engineering days, I do not think he has to depend on his “lucky” shirt to get through the interview; still, fair enough. Many of us treat some things as lucky and treasure them. It can be a watch, pen, an earring, a currency note, shirt, trouser, belt; pretty much anything that we had, or worn when something worked fine the first time. From then on it becomes a habit and slowly turns into a “religious” belief. I do not clearly remember but I think even I had a lucky pen or shirt or something during my high school and college days. I do not have any now, or at least for the moment I do not believe in any lucky things.  

I wished my friend luck and started back home still thinking about these “lucky” things. Though these things start with an individual, it can slowly influence and draw more people into it. Take the example of gifting green colored sarees to ladies in one of the south Indian state some years back. They say it started as a word of mouth that every brother should gift a green colored saree to his sister and the sister should wear it on a particular day of the week, to ward off evil. Slowly it turned into a huge saree gifting event across the region with men gifting sarees to every lady they knew. Shops carried different shades of green colored sarees and made a killing sale during that time.

Once home, I told my wife and my parents about my friend and his lucky shirt. I know my father doesn't believe in these things and he did not say anything. But both my wife and my mother told about things which they believed brought them luck while they were in school. I asked them if they still believed in these things and both said though they don’t have any lucky things they will still not write off if they found something brought them luck. Now my mother has a major in Science and Mathematics and my wife has done her Master’s in Business administration. Yet, both still feel there can be things which actually can be lucky even though there is no rational explanation to this.

My wife gave a very beautiful answer to this question. She said, if carrying a particular pen has always helped her clear her exams in college, why should she risk not carrying the pen? Even if she doesn't believe that a pen brought her luck, she will still take the pen to the exam rather than not take it, fail in the exam and lose a year.

Now that is an excellent point. Why take risk? What are you trying to prove? That a nonsense is a nonsense?



~Narendra V Joshi

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Building new hopes


The floods and the earth quake have devastated the region around the revered Kedarnath temple in Uttarakhand, but as per the new reports the temple sanctorum and the shrine bell are safe. This news strengthens faith and has raised new hope for the survivors and the devotees alike. 

The need of the hour is to build on this new hope, and support and contribute to rejuvenate the lives of the affected people. Hope the entire nation comes forward to help the distressed hearts by supporting them in all ways possible. 


The first glimpses showed death and destruction was all that stood,      
In the place revered righteous heavenly and good.
The flooding water had ravaged everything in its wake;
Flattening buildings and trees, putting lives at stake.

The receding water showed the still intact temple in full view;
Strengthening faith and raising new hope to those surviving few.
This new picture affirmed not all was lost,
With the Lord in front, a different battle has to be fought.

It’s upon us to rekindle the hopes and lives and dreams;
Of those distressed hearts, supporting them by all means.
Our contribution and support is the need of the hour,
And only this can heal and forge the bonds forever.


~Narendra V Joshi

Tuesday, March 05, 2013

Big small thoughts


I was in the train heading to the office this morning when a group of kids got into the train. They were about 12 kids aged around 15 years. They were running and chasing each other up and down the train from the moment they got in. Once they were seated, they pulled out their smart phones and started taking pictures of each other.

Looking at them reminded me of my school days. Walking to school with friends in the morning, chasing each other back home, playing cricket on the footpath, skipping classes, getting scolded for dirtying the uniform…  One thing I cannot forget is that when I was a kid, I wanted to be like my father; grow up and go to work J. And today as I sat in the train looking at those kids I could not stop wondering how much I missed my school days!

===============================================

The whistle blew as the train readied to move from the stop;
People searched for seats holding close their bags not to drop.
The train moved still the noisy kids scrambled to find a place.
Chasing each other it seemed they were playing a game of maze.

Looking at them reminded me of my school day 
when running and cycling with those heavy bags seemed a normal way.
Those times of staying late at the all friends night;
And that morning rush for the last bench to keep off the teachers sight.

Strangely as it seems, the movies with friends or skipping classes didn't have its take;
Nor were those long hours in playgroup or the library detours which kept me awake.
Rather it was the thought to grow big and go to work, that was strong
Funny I miss those school days now that I have come so long.

~Narendra V Joshi                   

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Names and Faces


I was at a grocery store yesterday when I heard somebody call my name.  He was a friend from work and I think the last I had met him in person was about 2-3 years back. We spoke for some time and for almost half of that time I was trying to recall his name.  It really took a while for me to recall his name while he had called me by my name the minute he had seen me.

Just a week back, I had this friend who was telling me how important it was for politicians and CEO’s and people in high places to remember people by names; especially by their first name. Calling people by their first name, especially while meeting somebody after a long time, adds a kind of personal touch.

I was thinking about both these and realized something. I can never be a politician or a CEO or someone in a high place because I don’t possess the most important skill needed for these occupations; remembering people by their names. Not that I had ever thought of becoming a politician or something J. I spent the rest of my yesterday thinking about what else I can be. Anything related to academics; a scientist, teacher, mathematician is all a big no. At most I can be a just ok bathroom singer, so scratched music off the list. I then thought of sports as I understand a little bit of cricket. I have seen most cricketers announce their retirement plans from active field cricket by late 30’s which probably means they start thinking about retiring when they are 33-34. So I cannot start thinking of a new career at an age when master sportsmen start thinking of their retirement. By late yesterday evening I realized I had scratched off almost every profession I knew, from the list.

Then suddenly I had this second realization. I could not recollect when was the last time I had thought so much about what I wanted to be, in my entire life. i.e. my entire life till now has been pretty much goalless. I have read of CEO’s who plan on how they want their company to be in the next 3 years, 5 years and 10 years. All I had planned till now was at most for 6 months or a year.

I woke up this morning with that same feeling of being goalless at the back of my head, but quickly got into the daily routine. I was reading the newspaper when I started thinking again. True, all those big folks come up with such stellar plans about how they want to grow their companies but haven’t we seen enough of many such stellar companies crumble overnight? I have read somewhere that the number of people who are cancelling their newspaper subscription has increased over the last 10 years. Who had thought that this will happen, 10 years back?  I might not have a quantified 10 year goal but I do have short term ones. Thinking about all this suddenly started making me feel better! I was amazed how uncomplicated my life is and how much thankful I should actually be for it! I spend hours with my wife on a park bench watching our daughter play, watch cartoons with my daughter just because I don’t have a 10 year quantified goal.

I might one day come up with a 10 year goal but it doesn't seem bad not having one. For now, this is something I want to do. The next time I meet somebody and I am unable to recall their name, I will just politely ask for it.

~Narendra V Joshi