Agile = No need for managers?

The Agile framework, especially implemented with SCRUM talks about ‘self-organizing teams’ as one of its benefits. According to definition, as the term says self-organizing-teams are the ones which regulate themselves, demonstrate very high amount of collaboration & teamwork by keeping customer as the first priority. This also means a self-correcting system where teams themselves figure out what has gone wrong and what can be made better.

Does this mean Agile SCRUM implementation results in getting rid of project or people managers? If agile is deployed can we give pink slips to people managers and ask them to leave? The answer is clear NO.

Agile don’t have any standard guideline or reference about people managers or project managers however based on my practical experience I would like to share few points:

  1. Agile requires very high amount of maturity among team members, till then it requires stronger involvement of managers. Here the role of traditional manager take a slight deviation where he needs to play the role of a coach by taking inspirational leadership approach rather than authoritarian.
  2. All people are not same, they need to be differentiated. In order to implement performance management system managers are required to work closely with team.
  3. Only prioritized task level activities are done by SCRUM framework, whereas program / product level activities still needs to be managed well
  4. Will bring down task-level or micro-level action done by managers by still requires supervision and management to run the business show.

BOOK REVIEW: My journey – Transforming dreams into action

Abdul Kalam
Transforming dreams into actions

Author: APJ Abdul Kalam

Price: 195 INR

For most Indians, reading about Abdul Kalam and his work is always an inspiring item. Post retirement, he started off his journey into writing by scripting his auto-biography titled ‘The wings of fire’, followed by some popular books like Ignited Minds, Envisioning an empowered nation, Turning points etc. Most of them talk about his early life in Rameshwaram followed by his experience with various defense and space research organizations. Another popular theme in these book is about “Vision 2020”, where Kalam is been articulating India becoming super power by 2012 by achieving excellence in technology, rural transformation, self reliance and self sustainability.

In this latest book ‘My journey – Transforming dreams into Action’, Kalam has followed pretty much the same canvas but gone into very small and specific stories. Unlike his previous books, he has chosen real life anecdotes and shared deeper learning from them. Growing up in town like Rameshwaram with very high aspirations and dreams is not very easy situation to handle. With lesser resources and exposure, Kalam need to go thru lot of struggle and build his career brick-by-brick. The most inspiring part is about him overcoming umpteen numbers of challenges and overcoming them with very strong vision and value.

For example, he explains how he became a working person at the age of 8 by supplying newspapers in Rameshwaram and struggle associated with it. Every day he would to get up at 4 AM followed by his morning tuition and prayers. In order to support his family Kalam takes a part time job of distributing newspapers to Rameshwaram household. Thanks to some policy change, Chennai-Dhanushkodi passenger train which carried daily newspaper bundle from Chennai removed Rameshwaram station from the list. This resulted in Kalam doing every day stunt by catching paper bundle thrown from a moving train at Rameshwaram station. Kalam will then go on distributing them after which his school day would start. In the evening he would finish his homework and complete settlement of newspaper daily account with his cousin who gave him this opportunity. It was quite obvious to see the amount of stress and pressure he might have gone thru as a 8 year old boy, but the way he put it across along with key learnings is simply amazing.

There are multiple similar stories related to his profession filled with struggle and failures.  Inspired by the vision of Dr. Vikram Sarabhai, Kalam and his team went on building Indian space story from the scratch.  He recalls how his professional career is similar to his early life in Rameshwaram – Lesser resources, Limited knowledge, larger challenges and a passion to win. Taking references from Bhagavat Gita to Thirukkural, Kalam mentions how he taken inspiration from these great ancient text to lift him up when things went wrong due to mistakes.  There were some repeated stories (ex: Church in Thumba becoming ISRO office, thanks to the local people), however they are always inspiring ones to hear again and again.

Unlike his previous books, Kalam kept this one very simple which can even read and understood by a high school kid. Definitely worth reading!

Innovation – Type 10 – Customer experience innovation [Case: Bigbasket]

Bigbasket
Bigbasket

The tenth and final type of innovation is around customer experience, which is all about creating a superior experience to customer’s entry to exit. In India many players attempted to do online grocery store for quite some-time now. It is extremely challenging business in Indian context (logistics, poor roads, unpredictable traffic, varying climate conditions etc…), which Bigbasket is able break by creating very good customer experience around it. I have personally tried and tested this many times, it works all the time with great experience.

Simple and effective User interface

The first thing that impressed me about Bigbasket is their simple and effective user interface. It was very easy to search/navigate for individual grocery items and create an order in a hassle free manner. Every item contains optimal information (neither too less nor too much) with put me into ease. Also when individuals go back for re-ordering, it keeps previous list handy for modification, which saves time for second time. This works very well for monthly grocery ordering.

Prompt alerts

While building an easy to use user interface might look relatively easy, integrating with backend supply chain to meet the promise is super critical. Especially in India, where the probability of providing prompt service is less (due to inherent challenges like infrastructure) providing prompt alerts to customers about the order status creates a lot of trust. In case of Bigbasket I get regular alerts (both in form of email and SMS) about my order status. Just before the final delivery of goods, authentication PIN is provided via SMS, so that both delivery person and customer can be assured about delivery.

Service delivery guarantee

Bigbasket
Bigbasket

After placing order, customers get to choose the time-slot in which they wanted the goods to be delivered. This super critical item (similar to Flipkart’s cash on delivery service) which helps office goers to get goods delivered at a convenient time. Their interface also shows the current booking status and slot availability in order to help customers choose the proper delivery time. From execution point of view, I have always seen they deliver goods on the time promised.

Return policy and wallet

During delivery, in case of item mismatch (ex: quantity) or damage (ex: broken seal), Bigbasket delivery folks take it back without any questions. Upon entering these items in backend (using Mobile application) customers again get immediate notification about when the updated item will be delivered. In case of item return, the money is kept back in a digital wallet which can be adjusted for next purchase.

In summary right from order placing to goods return, Bigbasket has done massive integration and prompt execution of their service. This gives a great end-to-end experience for customers in terms of quality, on-time delivery and reliability.

Sustainability Vs Delivering on numbers

For organizations it is always a challenge to balance between delivering numbers (ex: quarterly financial results) and balance our long term strategic priorities (ex: new business). At an individual level also we face similar dilemma, especially at leadership levels.

Typically in annual business planning activity would identify certain goals with specific targets. Popularly known as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), these numbers take multiple forms: sales quota, revenues, improving efficiency or delivering some number of patents, depending on the type of organization. Linking KPI with business definitely helps to bring focus in leadership team. This will also help to measure results in as numbers demonstrate “unambigiousness”. If the organization is big enoug, this is typically what key stakeholders (customers, share holders, investors and employees) look forward in terms of Return of Investment (ROI).

In my opinion, this KPI oriented model has its own disadvantages when taken into extreme. When the leadership team is completely focused on delivering numbers, many bigger and strategic opportunities will go out of the window or gets missed. From people perspective when they come to know that they are measured only based on numbers, they will do anything and everything do make “numbers look good”. Many of the corporate scandals, sudden collapse of a leader or a business unit is mainly because of the polarized focus towards ‘number crunching’. When extremely high amount of importance and focus is given for delivering numbers, original thinking process gets restricted in leadership team, because of which organization may not forsee potential opportunity in the future, leading to sustainability issues in business.

On the other hand taking the KPIs out of the management system will create accountability issues. The whole organization might look to be doing something which is really long term and strategic but never oriented towards providing tangible results/benefits to the organization. The difference between “articulation” and “accomplishment” will go away where people will assume doing former is same as later.

The real spirit should be to use KPI as “indicators” to really get realistic view of what exactly happening in ground zero. In case of an individual business unit or a leader is failing to deliver on his numbers, proper introspection should be done by senior level leadership to make it better or take some strong decision. Simply put in Jack Welch’s terms, leadership team should be able to take a choice from “Fix, sell or close”. When there is an opportunity to fix the issue, corresponding leader should be given necessary opportunity and empowerment to “openly” say his numbers are bad and put in actions to close gaps for making things better.

KPIs should indicate something which should be reflection of reality, so that actions are taken to solve real time issues. The more realistic those actions are, better the organization becomes. Next time you get an opportunity to check some numbers, ensure you read the “meaning” behind those numbers.

Right thing in a right way

Recently I was given an opportunity to discuss about ‘Business alignment’ with a set of people in my group.  To make the session interactive, I asked each one of them what exactly they understand by aligning with Business. Most of them replied saying ‘aligning individual aspirations to business needs’, ‘understanding organization opportunities in better manner’, ‘developing business acumen’ etc. While most of them are correct, I asked them back ‘In every given opportunity is it possible for an individual to be absolutely open and align himself to business needs? Can we always say business is heading in the right direction?’ and I could see many blank faces. While text-book definition of business alignment looks easy to understand, it’s extremely hard to implement.

Let us take an example. Assume a business leader is having a specific business goal (ex: improving customer satisfaction) considering the current business trend of customer complaints. Based on his understanding of business and his personal view, he typically comes up with ways to implement certain actions to achieve desired result. However, when the business task starts coming down the hierarchy, it gets interpreted by different layers in different ways. What is seen as the ‘right thing’ from the top might be seen as a ‘absolute blunder’ from the bottom layer of people. It can also be easily interpreted as the business leader trying to implement his ‘personal agenda’ to gain some benefit for him. This is one of the key reasons why practical implementation of business alignment becomes very challenging except for cases where the whole hierarchy consist of ‘yes sir’ type of people.

Now, how a business leader can ensure the ‘right thing’ gets implemented in the ‘right way’? In my opinion there is only one way to do it – Establish trust! For people who see value of implementing an action (to improve customer satisfaction) will right away go ahead and implement without fail. For people who don’t see or perceive the value of implementation will still implement because of the trust. He will work on a fundamental belief that ‘I might be missing something, let me implement this and understand this better rather than telling reasons for not implementing it’. This also leads to another case where an individual in the chain will build ‘disagree and commit’ mindset. This individual might not believe in the way it is implemented but still go ahead and do it in his own way because he is committed for the business leader.  For all you know such actions might lead to totally new set of possibilities which the business leader might not even thought of.

The power of trust is much bigger than we actually can think!

A meditator called Rahul Dravid…

Rahul Dravid, one of legends of world Cricket, announced his retirement yesterday. Even though I admire many cricketers, Dravid reserves a special place. It’s mainly because of the way he approached the same and lessons I could learn by looking into cricketing career. For him, being in the cricket ground and playing for India is similar to doing meditation. He did almost anything and everything that the team wanted – batted at different positions (being an opener to batting at seventh),kept wickets, bowled on few occasions, captained the team — even though most of them would put him out of his comfort zone. The sheer joy derived from his ‘uncomfortable zones’ is the key differentiation point for Dravid from other players. While there are definitely a lot of lessons one can learn from Dravid, here are my top three.

Aggression, in his own way: It’s been told that players need to be aggressive to win matches, which is true for Cricket as well. When it comes to Dravid, the definition of aggression takes a different meaning than what we generally perceive. Being a batsman, it’s mainly about competing fiercely against world’s toughest bowlers even in pitches that are favorable to them. Especially test cricket (which I believe is the true form of Cricket) is all about keeping the wicket intact. Dravid played multiple critical knocks in adverse conditions (ex: century scored against WI in 2011 tour) just by staying in at crease, thanks to his sheer concentration. Aggression is not only about taking on bowlers, playing attacking shots, scoring quick runs or sledging. It is also about keeping the wicket intact, beating the bowlers and opposition with patience, making them do mistakes and eventually capitalizing and winning on it, which Dravid successfully demonstrated in multiple occasions. It is not required to hit (or even touch) each and every ball to win test matches. Dravid has faced 31258 balls in his test career which is the highest ever faced by an individual in the history of test cricket, talks a lot about his own definition of aggression and winning test matches.

Continuous improvement: Dravid is definitely not a batting genius like Sachin Tendulkar. He had his own limitations when he started playing One day internationals, some of them being — poor strike rate, not so effective in rotating strike, not a quick scorer, not an entertaining player etc. Over a period of time he continuously and consistently improved on each of his limitations by giving acute focus for improvement areas. This can only happen when an individual admits ‘there are more things to learn and improve. Let me acknowledge and work towards it’, rather than wearing ego in shoulders. It took more than three years (1996-1998) for Dravid to get his career going in ODIs (see picture on the right), but he kept his consistency intact over the years, thanks to his continuous improvement mindset.

Glamor vs. Effective: In order to be effective, result orientation is the key. Unfortunately in India there are many factors that take a player way from the focus. Players are seen as glamor material some even regularly occupy page-3. Dravid remained in his own cocoon by completely keeping away from the glamor game. He was hardly known outside cricket (except few commercials) never been a popular guy, most wanted by media. Often his game is also perceived as boring or not so interesting to watch, but for him it is all about winning matches for India by being as effective as he can. Compared to his greatness he enjoyed relatively less media/press coverage, which talks a lot about the mark of this man. Even his retirement announcement came like a corporate package – No frills, no emotions but job done!

I am so humbled to see a great player sign-off on such a high note. There are definitely many things I can try and learn from this great individual. Hats off – Jammy!

Retailing – Mallu Chettan way!

About 5 years back the organized retail was portrayed as the ‘next-big-thing’. Big players (like Reliance) were flocking into this space, where many of us (including me) feared that small retail shops (run by fellow mallu chettan/annachi) will vanish overnight. However, today its totally different picture, where small players not only survived, but also came out stronger and bigger businesses. In my neighborhood, three major players (Reliance Fresh, More & Smart) opened up retail outlets within 1 kilometer distance. Mallu chettan’s store is also located between them, who was expected to go back to Kerala within months after big players stepped in. But in reality the opposite happened! More outlet has already shut-down and I could hardly see any growth with Reliance Fresh & Smart. Whereas chettan, shop has grown leaps-and-bounds. How chettan got it right? Here are my observations.

Annachi retail
Annachi retail

Retailing means relationship: Unlike western countries, in India, retailers have stronger relationship with customers. Every time I walk into a chettan shop, he welcomes me with warm smile and his employees connect well with every other member in the family. I know cases (in my native town), where the retailer was even invited to family functions. There was an instance, where we requested chettan to keep his shop open for some more time in the night, so that we can purchase milk for my little one when we were returning back from travel. Such strong customer connection is totally non-existent in retail shops run by big players. They hardly have eye-contact with customers, let alone building relationship.

0% labor attrition: In chettan’s shop literally there is no attrition. The main reason being,all of his employees belong to his native place, who are mainly recruited thro’ family connections & network. All employees stay together in a shared accommodation, which creates a better linkage among them. In few cases he also has arrangement, where some portion of employee salary is directly sent to their families/parents back home. Because of such strong engagement, there is no attrition. As a customer, when you walk into the top you see familiar faces every time. On the other hand, organized retail industry is facing double digit attrition for years together.

Customer experience: Thanks to high labor attrition, every time big retailers bring new people who are not trained well. They don’t know which section is located where and how to help the customer to choose what they want. Manier times I have seen sales person struggling thro’ the items or re-directing to a different person (you know..its not my job BS) which doesn’t provide good customer experience. In chettan’s shop, every person knows in and out of various sections and they go thro’ regular section rotation. Most of the times I have seen these folks walk along with me and help to choose & purchase items. Strong employee connection results in providing better customer experience.

Divide and conquer: This is another interesting strategy that chettan has adapted. Among his employees if he finds a high potential individual, he funds them and helps to open up a shop nearby in a non-competing space. For example, I am seeing former employees of chettan opening cloth & novelty stores nearby. This has created a “win-win” situation where chettan has aided his employees becoming entrepreneurs and enjoys a major stake in the new business. By creating different shops serving different needs of the customer, he has literally captured a huge market in my locality. I am not sure such strategies can even applied in retail shops run by big players.

The above mentioned points are my observations from my neighborhood retailer. This will not be true for all cases, also such model cannot scale well across different cities & branches. However there are very small but significant lessons that big retailers should learn ,so that they can really succeed in the long run. After all the purpose of real value is as perceived by customers!

Retailing – Mallu Chettan way!

 

About 5 years back the organized retail was potrayed as the ‘next-big-thing’. Big players (like Reliance) were flocking into this space, where many of us (including me) feared that small retail shops (run by fellow mallu chettan/annachi) will vanish overnight. However, today its totally different picture, where small players not only survived, but also came out stronger and bigger businesses. In my neighbourhood, three major players (Reliance Fresh, More & Smart) opened up retail outlets within 1 kilometer distance. Mallu chettan’s store is also located between them, who was expected to go back to Kerala within months after big players stepped in. But in reality the opposite happened! More outlet has already shut-down and I could hardly see any growth with Reliance Fresh & Smart. Whereas chettan, shop has grown leaps-and-bounds. How Chettan got it right? Here are my observations.

 

Retailing means relationship: Unlike western countries, in India, retailers have stronger relationship with customers. Every time I walk into a chettan shop, he welcomes me with warm smile and his employees connect well with every other member in the family. I know cases (in my native town), where the retailer was even invited to family functions. There was an instance, where we requested chettan to keep his shop open for some more time in the night, so that we can purchase milk for my little one when we were returning back from travel. Such strong customer connection is totally non-existent in retail shops run by big players. They hardly have eye-contact with customers, let alone building relationship.

 

0% labor attrition: In chettan’s shop literally there is no attrition. The main reason being,all of his employees belong to his native place, who are mainly recruited thro’ family connections & network. All employees stay together in a shared accommodation, which creates a better linkage among them. In few cases he also has arrangement, where some portion of employee salary is directly sent to their families/parents back home. Because of such strong engagement, there is no attrition. As a customer, when you walk into the top you see familiar faces every time. On the other hand, organized retail industry is facing double digit attrition for years together.

 

Customer experience: Thanks to high labor attrition, every time big retailers bring new people who are not trained well. They don’t know which section is located where and how to help the customer to choose what they want. Manier times I have seen sales person struggling thro’ the items or re-directing to a different person (you know..its not my job BS) which doesn’t provide good customer experience. In chettan’s shop, every person knows in and out of various sections and they go thro’ regular section rotation. Most of the times I have seen these folks walk along with me and help to choose & purchase items. Strong employee connection results in providing better customer experience.

Divide and conquer: This is another interesting strategy that chettan has adapted. Among his employees if he finds a high potential individual, he funds them and helps to open up a shop nearby in a non-competing space. For example, I am seeing former employees of chettan opening cloth & novelty stores nearby. This has created a “win-win” situation where chettan has aided his employees becoming entrepreneurs and enjoys a major stake in the new business. By creating different shops serving different needs of the customer, he has literally captured a huge market in my locality. I am not sure such strategies can even applied in retail shops run by big players.

 

The above mentioned points are my observations from my neighbourhood retailer. This will not be true for all cases, also such model cannot scale well across different cities & branches. However there are very small but significant lessons that big retailers should learn ,so that they can really succeed in the long run. After all the purpose of real value is as perceived by customers!

 

 

Retailing – Mallu Chettan way!

About 5 years back the organized retail was potrayed as the ‘next-big-thing’. Big players (like Reliance) were flocking into this space, where many of us (including me) feared that small retail shops (run by fellow mallu chettan/annachi) will vanish overnight. However, today its totally different picture, where small players not only survived, but also came out stronger and bigger businesses. In my neighbourhood, three major players (Reliance Fresh, More & Smart) opened up retail outlets within 1 kilometer distance. Mallu chettan’s store is also located between them, who was expected to go back to Kerala within months after big players stepped in. But in reality the opposite happened! More outlet has already shut-down and I could hardly see any growth with Reliance Fresh & Smart. Whereas chettan, shop has grown leaps-and-bounds. How Chettan got it right? Here are my observations.

Retailing means relationship: Unlike western countries, in India, retailers have stronger relationship with customers. Every time I walk into a chettan shop, he welcomes me with warm smile and his employees connect well with every other member in the family. I know cases (in my native town), where the retailer was even invited to family functions. There was an instance, where we requested chettan to keep his shop open for some more time in the night, so that we can purchase milk for my little one when we were returning back from travel. Such strong customer connection is totally non-existent in retail shops run by big players. They hardly have eye-contact with customers, let alone building relationship.

0% labor attrition: In chettan’s shop literally there is no attrition. The main reason being,all of his employees belong to his native place, who are mainly recruited thro’ family connections & network. All employees stay together in a shared accommodation, which creates a better linkage among them. In few cases he also has arrangement, where some portion of employee salary is directly sent to their families/parents back home. Because of such strong engagement, there is no attrition. As a customer, when you walk into the top you see familiar faces every time. On the other hand, organized retail industry is facing double digit attrition for years together.

Customer experience: Thanks to high labor attrition, every time big retailers bring new people who are not trained well. They don’t know which section is located where and how to help the customer to choose what they want. Manier times I have seen sales person struggling thro’ the items or re-directing to a different person (you know..its not my job BS) which doesn’t provide good customer experience. In chettan’s shop, every person knows in and out of various sections and they go thro’ regular section rotation. Most of the times I have seen these folks walk along with me and help to choose & purchase items. Strong employee connection results in providing better customer experience.

Divide and conquer: This is another interesting strategy that chettan has adapted. Among his employees if he finds a high potential individual, he funds them and helps to open up a shop nearby in a non-competing space. For example, I am seeing former employees of chettan opening cloth & novelty stores nearby. This has created a “win-win” situation where chettan has aided his employees becoming entrepreneurs and enjoys a major stake in the new business. By creating different shops serving different needs of the customer, he has literally captured a huge market in my locality. I am not sure such strategies can even applied in retail shops run by big players.

The above mentioned points are my observations from my neighbourhood retailer. This will not be true for all cases, also such model cannot scale well across different cities & branches. However there are very small but significant lessons that big retailers should learn ,so that they can really succeed in the long run. After all the purpose of real value is as perceived by customers!

Innovation and its unsung cousin Execution

Everyone loves the word Innovation, including my good friend and co blogger Jayakumar :). Companies love to call their products and solutions as Innovative. It looks terrific on resumes and billboard commercials. MBAs are taught courses on Innovation and as a consequence cannot complete a presentation without using that word at least once.

Now, I personally have nothings against Innovation, but I do believe that many companies focus on this at the expense of something which is as important, if not more – Execution.

Let me provide a broad non-dictionary meaning of what each of this mean, to me:
Innovation – something unique / new, a creative solution, a discovery or an invention.
Execution – Getting it done – efficiently and rapidly, taking things to completion.

The Philips Vs Sony war on the consumer electronics front is a great lesson on the importance of Execution (in addition to Innovation). In the Consumer Electronics front, Philips sets the benchmark when it comes to innovation. Take a look at the list of inventions that they have and its truly inspiring.

http://www.philips.com/about/company/history/keyinventions/index.page

The radio, the television, the magnetic tape and compact disc are inventions of Philips. However, when it comes to making these inventions a marketing success, the Japanese giant Sony has been a much bigger success. They have simply been able to roll these out faster, cheaper and more efficiently to the markets worldwide.

Google’s being able to Execute better on Ovetture’s Innovation of showing ads against a search is another example. Now, this is not to say that Philips cannot Execute or Sony cannot Innovate. I am not discounting Philips’ ability to deliver products or Sony’s “process innovations”. However, it remains that the core strength of Philips and Sony are on Innovation and Execution respectively.

Go ahead Innovate, but also ensure that you can execute on those ideas, roll things out, market it well to ensure that the product succeeds.

 

– NWritings