Super Long PRDs, MRDs…. on their way out?

One more take away from the Product Management session that I attended:

Closely aligned towards the more collaborative Product Discovery process is a move away from long PRDs and MRDs – specifically in the context of technology product companies.

The traditional way of building products would typically start off with the PM putting out a super long PRD and THEN kick off discussions with Engg. Now, considering that we have moved towards a more collaborative product discovery process, the focus is moving away from super long PRD.
The session presenter talked about a couple of drawbacks with these super long PRDs which I could easily identify with:

  1. They end up getting taken too seriously and lull people into a false sense of security (“It is long and impressively put together with nice illustrations… So the PM must be smart and this must make sense”)
  2. Since the whole product discovery process is exploratory and iterative in nature, with changes to the approach as found necessary, a super long PRD is not necessary – and can actually be counter productive, since it could impede you from making even necessary course corrections.

So, here is what is recommended:

  1. The PM starts with a very brief outline of what problem you are trying to solve, why it needs to be solved and for who. This is pretty much all a PM needs to kick start the product discovery process.
  2. By the end of the product discovery process, the PM has the necessary customer and the customer facing teams (or at least part of it, with more to come during the product development process), the architect has the design documents for the Engg to execute on and the UX has the necessary UI mocks available.

But clearly, what makes you do away with the super long PRDs is actually the collaborative approach.



BOOK REVIEW : Smoke and mirrors

BOOK REVIEW : Smoke and mirrors

Price: 300 INR

Author: Pallavi Aiyar

Two hundred years ago, Napoleon Bonaparte said ‘Let her sleep, for when she wakes, she will shake the world’ referring about China. The very statement become a reality today, as the dragon country literally started shaking the world in all dimensions – be it economical, political or social. None of us can imagine to ignore ‘Made in China’ phrase, given the fact that we use Chinese goods day-in and day-out – ranging from shirt button to iPad. The topic of China becomes all the more interesting, looking from Indian perspective. Both countries have  long history and tradition, but poles apart the way they are operating today. In her book ‘Smoke and mirrors’ author Pallavi Aiyer has attempted to explore many unknown aspects of China from an Indian point of view. The beauty of the book lies in the way she represented China – based on her personal memoirs, travel experience and interaction with tons native chinese people.

The storytelling starts when Pallavi, relocates to China (Beijing) for taking up her teaching profession in Beijing Broadcasting institute. Her first surprise comes in form of her students who are programmed to think in a pre-defined way. It is way different from what she has seen among journalist students in India, where journalism starts with freedom of expression. India is a country where ‘Aishwarya Rai is on her family way’ hits the mainstream media in no-time and people start doing ‘page-3’ research on it would affect Bollywood. China is way different, where the freedom of expression is limited to a larger extent. Whatever comes out the media, everybody is forced to believe it as truth. In another words – truth is not in its real form, but how the Chinese government wants it to be. For example, during her interactions, Pallavi finds all her students saying ‘Mao was 70% correct and 30% wrong’ and she later understands that’s how they were thought during school days. Since there is no other source to validate this statement, students are forced to believe it as a truth. The main theme for this book emerges from the same topic – Is freedom of expression (in the name of democracy) is more important than financial development ? Is it worth having a vibrant media over poor infrastructure? Does economic growth mean happy people?

No doubt! China has emerged as the economic powerhouse of 21st century by threatening every other developed country in the world (read it as USA). This large scale, aggressive globalization with a strong communist government has definitely brought a whole lot of good by lifting its one third of the population out of poverty. Thanks to unmatched execution capability, China can literally make anything happen. For example, the Zhejiang province has emerged as the hub of manufacturing with every damn thing we can imagine takes it shape. For example in 2004 alone 3 billion pairs of socks where exported this province, which really talks about the scale and execution speed. China stunned the world by building 4300 KM Shanghai-Lhasa train route which is situated at 3600M above sea level, surrounded by snow mountains. Pallavi was one of the lucky passengers to travel in this ‘dream-train’ during its first journey. She vividly explains how China has built this marvel by taking care of smallest things (ex: installing cold water pumps near the rail track for nullifying the snow effect). Thanks to its robust infrastructure (mainly roads), the supply chain has become really world class. Goods can be moved from one and to other without any major hazzles, thereby aiding smooth exporting of its manufactured goods.

The above mentioned growth has come with its own cost. The never-transparent Chinese government always operates with a bunch controversies. When China stretched its muscles by hosting 2008 Beijing Olympics, countless number of ancient Chinese houses were demolished ruthlessly. Called as ‘hutong’ in Chinese, there ancient houses given a red mark called ‘chai’ (destruction) and vanished overnight to give urban makeover to the Beijing city. Not only buildings, people also do vanish, when they voice against Chinese government. Pallavi stayed in one of these hutongs and explains how the ancient Chinese way of living got affected in the name of urbanization. She also gives deeper social insights of China (ex: unbelievable change in the way sex is perceived among the youth, local passport system called hukou, aping the western way of living , copying anything and everything etc..) which is really interesting. In each case, Pallavi compares with India which makes it all the more fun to read.

Given the fact that even Google not able to crawl many sites in China, it is extremely difficult for a normal individual to understand China.In such scenario, Pallavi’s ‘Smoke and Mirror’ comes out as a relevant account, which gives realistic perspective about contemporary China. The style she has adapted in this book, would really interest both fiction and non-fiction readers.

Education: State Vs Central board

Its time to talk about education!

I grew up in a small town, educated in state board , in regional medium (Tamil) of instruction. Apart from my studies, all I knew was about something called ‘English medium’, where subjects were taught in English and those students boasted as if they knew many things. Acronums like JEE, AIEEE, CBSE, ICSE were totally unheard until I went to do my Engineering. These days I am discussing schooling related topics with my friends and family, so that I can make a better choice for my little one. However I am not sure if there is anything called ‘better’ choice? Will it make any difference at all?

Based on my discussion folks fed me with following data – In (Karnataka) state board is relatively easy to score marks (in terms of percentage), thereby having a better chance of making into good state colleges. However it is completely rote based, will not provide room to grow analytical/application thinking. In case of central (ICSE/CBSE) boards, it is totally opposite – getting marks is difficult, but it is comparitively make analytical thinking better. Also by taking up central sylabbus one has a better chance of cracking national level competitive examinations like JEE. But there is also a risk, where getting lower marks in central board, means ending up in mid/lower tier colleges in the state.

Leaving the boards & marks apart, I am having more fundamental questions about our education system. I know these questions are not easy to answer, but let me line them up as follows:

  1. Why there are so many boards, with different standards and evaluation procedures? Shouldn’t we have a common sylabbus across the country, where things are done in a uniformed manner? Even today there are not many ICSE/CBSE schools in smaller towns, thereby not providing them to have a fair chance in national level entrance examinations.
  2. Recently Tamilnadu government attempted to do this unification by removing state and matriculation sylabbus by coming up with a uniform school system. However thanks to the recent government change (from DMK to ADMK), it has taken a nasty route, where even today they are not sure which sylabbus to follow. Its been two weeks since schools  re-opened in the state, still my nephew (in 9th standard) didn’t get his text books, reason being schools don’t know which one to follow. Why should we allow education becoming a toy in hands of politicians? Shouldn’t it be governed by an independent body like election commission?
  3. Where and how are we taking care of the passion part? Thanks to the current situation, we seem to be pushing anyone and everyone into Engineering, so that they can get a high paying software job. This resulting in people who are not so passionate about the technolgy entering the industry, which will create a long term problem both for individual and industry as a whole. Why are we are not giving enough importance to arts, science and commerce? Why there is a common thinking of measuring success only in terms of salary he/she gets?
  4. While we are very happy to see movies like ‘Taare Zameen par’ and ‘Three idiots’, how many parents today are even making an attempt to understanding their kids and helping them choose their career/education, depending on his/her interest?

I am more than happy to hear your views/thoughts on this topic.