Category Archives: Leadership

My views on leadership as I have seen it through years spent in industry and self-reflection.

8+ years & moving on…

I joined Cimpress ( then Vistaprint ) as Head of Technology in 2012 . I was excited about the opportunity because of the following three reasons

  • It was greenfield meaning I will be choose my team
  • It was in e-commerce space . I had never worked in that space
  • It was Indian market

This was compelling enough for me to embark upon this journey and make a difference. I was hired by Bernie Barbour & his fellow pals from Europe Engineering groups. Bernie then was leading a team of committed people from Vistaprint in setting up new operations in India post acquisition. When I say new operation it implies setting up whole new business along side plant operations in personalized print space using Mass Customization stack available at Vistaprint!

Since then Bernie [ now Head of Mass Customization Platforms(MCP) at Cimpress Technology ] has been part of my professional life like a constant. While I write this , you will find the equivalence of this in E = mc^2 (German-born physicist Albert Einstein’s theory of special relativity that expresses the fact that mass and energy are the same physical entity and can be changed into each other). I have been lucky to have this as coincidence because it is always tough to find such long time partners as an individual , team member and leader within a company.

Bernie & me !! love Boston !!

I contributed and led the technology and product landscape for Vistaprint India technology operations including production tech working on different aspects of e-commerce , supply chain , infrastructure. Given the success in India , the pattern was repeated in Japan , & I was called in to hire as well groom the technology team in Japan that could work independently for Vistaprint Japan. The journey every year was exciting doing different things in India & Japan in space of e-commerce & retail store formats . It was all new for me. When I joined Vistaprint in 2012 , I had always been working for global companies but Vistaprint was becoming a global company not from the sense of having offices in different parts of the world but actually doing business in different parts of the world with localized manufacturing. Next stop was China where I got ability to sit with different stakeholders to look at the market and see how we could integrate mass customization in retail store format with marquee brands. First 4 years were a great learning experience for me. I was excited about building my culture map at global scale thanks to Vistaprint. During these 4 years Bernie & I kept crossing paths bringing engineering and expertise to the region all across time zones starting from US to Asia Pacific!

Images are tell-tales and so are the above one’s through my eventful journey of setting up retail store in Pune for Vistaprint India to Japan operations. Core Team of Vistaprint India led by Nilesh Parwani – serial entrepreneur , whose start-up was the reason India happened to the Boss doing his inspections in Japan 🙂 . I picked great friends in India and across the globe like Chirag Bhuva , Sandeep K , Jitendra Dadhich , Mahesh Shenoy , Rene Kuipers , Conrado & Saigni Ramesh! Met some fine technology leaders like Maarten , Jim , Satish , Marco & Melissa !

Late of 2016 , I started to shift gears at Vistaprint , many acquisitions had been made and we were moving aggressively towards a platform hypothesis as well we transformed into what I was part of that is Cimpress. Core tech needed to expand rapidly and there were a increased desire to start looking at rethinking e-commerce stack across various businesses to speed up out ability for a vertical integration and create network effect across multiple markets.

Again Bernie came into picture and this time the challenge was to create a ground up engineering team that can help create a new multi-tenant e-commerce platform which help us transform the businesses and move them to more modern day world of API-first / data driven architecture. This started my next 4 years time travel at Cimpress. I started to work very closely with businesses In Europe and my attention shifted from Asia Pacific to European businesses. From building the team in India to working a new platform , developing hypothesis and launching it in UK for Tradeprint was a a crazy ride for people around me!

Picked great buddies like Dan Wakabayashi , Kara H , Ashley , Markus T , Michael T , Ryan B , Vikram , Nirav , Cory , Mukul , David Goldman , Rod Scrimgeour , Alan Livie , Stuart Ebdy , Steven Hammond , Ben Hudson , Christian Maas , Henk & Galina. I continue to have great personal relationships with each one of them ! Many more in India like Ameya s , Gurinder Singh , Shekhar S , Sumit S , Himaunshu , Gaurang , Doede , Vinay , Dhaval , Aman , Rohan S , Samyak M , Ankur T , Amit P , Kunjal , Priyanka , Deepa , Prasanna , Rohit , Sharlet , Yogendra , Chandra , Vishwas , Pranav P , Tanu R, Ankush K, Satish , Prasenjit , Hardik , Manoj , Ramya , Vedant , Prateek … there are 100 plus great people from whom I have learned a lot from our India Engineering Centre across Mumbai and Bangalore !!! It is hard to enlist everybody but I have huge respect for every individual who has worked with me !!

Many such memories , events and occurrences , also gave me the ability to run for a marathon in Paris ! ( never ran in my life before now I run three times a week ) , all inspired by Kees Andres , whom I revere and respect a lot for astute business sense and eye for correct details.

Over the course of last 8 years , I have built more than once teams suited to different purposes from running business centric technology to e-commerce , marketing and storefront tech every time bringing on amazing talent which is smart , level headed and come with “get shit done” moto.

Cimpress Technology Leadership Team ( core & extended )

My lessons learnt from famous book Making of a Manager are here:

Your job, as a manager, is to get better outcomes from a group of people working together.

The first big part of your job as a manager is to ensure that your team knows what success looks like and cares about achieving it.

Your role as a manager is not to do the work yourself, even if you are the best at it, because that will only take you so far. Your role is to improve the purpose, people, and process of your team to get as high a multiplier effect on your collective outcome as you can.

Today, my job looks very different than when I started. Every time I’ve given a piece of it away, I’ve discovered that there was ever more to take on. As long as you continue to be motivated by your purpose, as long as your aspirations extend beyond what your team is currently capable of, as long as you can see new challenges on the horizon, then there’s opportunity for you to have more impact. Often, this means doing new things that you’re not very good at yet.

The act of constantly trying to replace yourself means that you create openings to stretch both your leaders and yourself. Right ahead is another mountain that’s bigger and scarier than the one before. Everyone keeps climbing, and everyone achieves more together.

Leadership is a quality, not a job

& none the least many of my famous quotes given on our printing platform as gift by my AWESOME team !

Cimpress Technology & Cimpress India provided me right level of autonomy to try new things , create new software , run technology organization and making me a Global Software Engineering Leader! I can only be thankful! I hope I am able to create success and get same environment in different context as I reset to paint the canvas again !

As I look back standing now in 2020 , a strange year for entire world! I do not want to say much but only be grateful to God for providing us spiritual strength which is helping us endure and keep moving forward.

Leadership Lessons From The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind

In my last blog I talked about new normal and how things have changed in post-COVID era.  The following blog para-phrases key leadership lessons I picked from the movie about William Kamkwamba The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind .

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind is a movie based on William Kamkwamba’s life in Africa and how he saved his village. After just barely being able to go to school, the dry season hits, leaving his parents poor and their farm dead. Even though he technically still isn’t supposed to be at school, William sneaks in after the morning assembly as to go by unnoticed. He did this because he was inspired by the dynamo on his teacher’s bike. Eventually, he was discovered and kicked out of the school, but since his sister was secretly dating his teacher, William essentially blackmailed him into letting him use the library. Later, he makes a model windmill, and after a lot of persuasion, he got his father to sacrifice his bike so that he could make a larger windmill. This windmill fuels a well and keeps his family farm out of the dry season all year.

Once you give this movie a watch , there are aspects of leadership and execution William exhibits which are noteworthy in these testing times of pandemic and beyond.

Iterative approach to problem solving

William’s approach of solving the problem was iterative – a quality which was essential for him to be what he is today a – Malawian inventor . When you iterate & build prototypes then you get a sense of what you are working on and how it can be scaled. From paper to reality , do not forget to iterate else one never knows what is missing in the puzzle to solve the problem. William started from a book which inspired him to make the windmill , proved that it works to his friends and then took the moon-shot for to build the real windmill. In current pandemic vaccines will come through by doing more test and trial , one needs to keep iterating through it at a fast pace and collaborate globally.

Creativity In Frugality

Current pandemic crisis has shown that one does not have luxury of options and if you are not going to be creative , then it will be struggle from sustaining your meals , work & personal life. You can quickly go out of control & whether it is a drought in Malawi which forced William to think about a solution or current pandemic , it has same forbearance of the impact it has on humans. William is known to have constructed a wind turbine from scavenged parts.  You might be used to seeing something fancy but here is the image of William’s windmill. 

330px-William_Kamkwambas_new_windmill

Lead By Example

It is always important to do lead by example . One can have a idea but it is not relevant unless you prove it and show it that is a workable idea with some more effort. In William’s case, he researched how dynamos and windmills work before he tried to get hands on with them. Had he not done that, he would have been at risk of breaking the dynamo. It is important to be confident about your plan and how you intend to get it through with others. In current pandemic situation leaders in any capacity do not have to just be bearer of information but will have to embrace it themselves more than ever.

Team Is Important

When William Kamkwamba decided that it was time to get things to work, he had to make his friends understand that without them, he would be damned. You need a team that is on the same page as you are. It doesn’t matter if it’s only one person on the team! We have to have a team and work as a team for an effective response to the pandemic. Any kind of of discord will not help cure , save and protect lives !

Need To Be On The Problem

Persistence is important part of problem solving , if you loose heart then you will not be able to solve the problem. Iterations will bring heart-breaks and failures but one cannot put them in front of solving the real issue at hand. One needs to persuade different people at different levels in order to meet with a successful outcome. If William didn’t have the skill of persuasion, his father would never have let him use his bike. And he would have never persuaded his sister to convince his teacher to give him the dynamo.  In current crisis one needs to communicate broadly and effectively. It is also important to remain on top of the problem and organize the teams to deliver towards a successful outcome.

I hope these reflections are useful to my readers who are trying to tackle various types of issues at different levels. If you have any thoughts to share , please do not hesitate to write back to me or post a comment!

Power of Letting Go & Leadership

Through second half of 2019 , I experienced lot of open ends around me. It was related to everything from not feeling well , to meeting deadlines & managing expectations. I had started to miss my runs and schedule. I was beginning to stress over all & how things were going to unfold.

Realization : It was time to retrospect!

I am still in early phases of this , but I wanted to share one of the dimensions that I am trying to put in place related to power in letting go ! I realized that balancing aspiration , controlling all tiny details and continuously structuring was leading to what I call over-indexing!  From what I have read and observed , continuity can only be maintained if we focus on what we are doing and when our part is done then shift it into background and / or move on to something else.

ankush-minda-VcD5OD2jDGA-unsplash

Photo by Ankush Minda on Unsplash

As leaders you might be thinking about tomorrow or yesterday as it pertains to the topic at hand but as you do so , keep following things in mind:

Having a Clear Goal

Be clear of the goal you are trying to reach and differentiate between what “snaps-you” versus what is the actual “pain”. Having that in mind allows one to goo little deep in defining goals and objectives that are more sustainable and avoids us to slip in chaos. This way you may be able to iterate for longer duration.

If this is not the case it will lead to many starts & stops thus creating higher involvement towards delivering purpose.

Operating Boundaries

For you as a leader to operate with more bandwidth given multi-tasking is necessary evil , setting operating boundaries and see that the network effect takes care to connect you to the goals with others around you. We talk about connected world but then suffer to operate with our personal baselines in attempt to move faster. Establish accountability & coach people to exercise their judgement.

Do not benchmark everything centered around yourself as leader. You will never be able to let go if that remains the case. 

Informal & short-run feedback

Improve your ability to give feedback to your network so that it improves its efficiency to collaborate & deliver results. Over sustained period of time feedback loops activate creativity at problem solving and thus aid towards a broader balancing act in the system.

As a person , you need to trust the network or else you would not get into cadence of letting go.

Coach To Lead

If by any stretch one deems himself to be in leadership position , the onus to find and groom people to lead is very pertinent. This is not very easy and will not come fast. It is time taking & involving exercise. If the network around you has to respond to future then we need more from within to lead and carry the weight.

It is matter of time , when you as a leader will start feeling the pain of not having focused on this , thus creating a pull back effect – an impediment towards our desire to let go.

Hope this helps current and future leaders to create a healthy balance that helps to practice the power of letting go . I am personally trying to put these in action as I realize life is a marathon and not 100-meters dash!

Welcome 2020!…#motivation

I did a reflective post in 2019 , where I summarized small things that can help us in pushing towards your personal and / or professional goals. Maintaining that tradition , I have come up with a set from 2019 now , that I would like to share with my readers. Even if any one of these help you push the dial , I will be a very happy person! & if you have your own reflections , then please do leave them as comments 🙂

 

Walk on water“Walk on water” by paullancaster1 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

For me year 2018 moving into 2019 was about #keepgoing and now from 2019 to 2020 is about #motivation. This could be for anything but it is necessary to have #motivation

#be-uncomfortable 

This one is my favorite , I guess over years my biggest driver for motivation!

If you think that you are spinning wheels everyday then talk to your peers or manager about this. For others who may think entitlements( work from home , comfortable office location etc.)  are necessary for best case outcome , should know that we are part of a large human experiment! . One should know that people who always retrospect whether they deserve all the privileges are the ones who shape the future of a mission as they get up every morning to better themselves and make themselves feel worthy.

So being uncomfortable is something you should embrace. Putting yourself in new and unfamiliar situations triggers a unique part of the brain that releases dopamine, nature’s make-you-happy chemical. This unique region of the brain is only activated when you see or experience completely new things.

#keep-yourself-updated

This one thing which is very important. Things around us are changing very fast. The change of pace is increasing and if you are not aware of landscape , do not read books , articles , then you will be totally out of context to start a conversation or hold up to one. It is very necessary tool that allows you to foster relationships , collaborate and connect in the age of distributed economy.

#take-care-of-people

Ben Horowitz is the cofounder of Andreessen Horowitz (A16Z) and one of Silicon Valley’s most respected and experienced entrepreneurs. In his book ‘The Hard Thing about Hard Things’ he shares his experience of being a founder-CEO and the hard decisions he has had to make.

One of the things he mentioned in the book struck me alot:-

TAKE CARE OF THE PEOPLE, THE PRODUCTS, AND THE PROFITS—IN THAT ORDER
― Ben Horowitz

#stay-fit

This is a carry over goal. I do not think this is going to go off my list 🙂 . Remaining fit is very important to have positive and open mind towards solving problems. It also reduces friction & improves efficiency for sustainable future & society.

Wishing all my readers a very happy and prosperous 2020 !

Collaborate!

While the world diverges itself to allow individual growth and learning , group dynamics cannot be sidelined in larger scheme of things. Individual contributions must lead to productive collaboration. While the word team , itself comes largely from sports , it is always formed and meant to win games. Carrying same concept to work does not always translate into victory but should aspire to create a network effect.

Network effect helps individuals and group of individuals to do following:

  • Enables trust
  • Fosters better group dynamics
  • Helps understanding navigating workplaces

Sometimes it so feel that our group dynamics is working but still there are small sub groups tend to cluster around certain commonalities. Albeit this does not have any detrimental impact on groups outcomes , it is important that subgroups connect and bond to radiate positive energy through their actions.

Another key aspect related to effective collaboration is cultivating art of negotiation. Being able to successfully negotiate without burning bridges is a valuable professional skill.

Discipline is one more key thing to collaboration. It brings certain amount of seriousness to group dynamics and allows for a more cultured feedback loop within the group.

Micromanage Self!

There is a Chinese proverb “Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still”.  We would never find a problem in employees that solve problems , are result oriented and are just good at there job , but this same attitude prevents one from being effective.

Steven Covey once summed it up that “We accomplish all what we do through delegation – either to time or to other people” . So yes one can do anything but not everything! It is important that one delegates to create space and opportunity both for self or individual. It helps find time for self and allows people around you to grow.

There are some approaches that can help one to get into the above mode. In general and at large hiring good talent is key to the process of delegation followed by a loose boundary of guard-rails with a let-it go attitude. Holding too tight to something is most severe damage one can to your own prospect or team morale.

Here are quick approach directions to think and dwell upon:

  1. Resource to work relationship is of that which has least friction. Find natural alignment of talent to type of work. Trying to over-train somebody into a role , can sometimes be self-defeating goal. Generally people do not speak up , but it is true , everybody is not meant to do everything !
  2. Set absolute performance benchmarks and guidelines but do not take away element of discretion in your management approach.  Be a minimalist who gives enough for people to deduce , operate and deliver.
  3. Play out your bets in conjunction to insight # 1. World is not a perfect place & therefore one has to try it out. Trying out people will allow you to either get better folks than you or may be they fail. If they fail , then one needs to take that as temporal set-back and focus on absolute performance.

Do not be a mechanical  about your choices and over-trying one option for delegation is not an option , that is termed more a fearful move to avoid failure ! In end , if you do not micromanage self , you will not identify streams that can be mapped out and get an understanding when to fan-in versus out!

Welcome 2019!…#keepgoing

While working through 2018 & reflecting back , I have gathered small reflections that have helped me personally to balance and continue to move another year in sustainable manner & yes there is no midlife crisis neither the musings of nirvana but pure realistic facts that have moved me all along the year gone by!

#stop-look-go

Very necessary that we pace ourselves and not go for the plunge directly. In world where agile , iterations , test & learn seem to be over-powering our traditional approaches , there seems to be no substitute for some amount of planning and pacing before one approaches his or her objectives. 

#value-at-work

Always question is your work another transaction output of an employment contract or are you delivering value while enjoying at work?

Working hard is different than working efficiently. just achieving a desired output does not mean much in today’s world so if you are having a flat tone , not re-inventing your own working styles then it is time to introspect. Identify your limiting factors to bring more joy to your work – #stop-look-go

paul-skorupskas-59950-unsplash.jpgPaul Skorupskas

#avoid-system-traps

Adapted from Thinking In Systems authored by Donella H. Meadows

When playing sustainable and long innings you can become susceptible to system trap of “eroding goals.” It is also called the “boiled frog syndrome,” from the old story (I don’t know whether it is true) that a frog put suddenly in hot water will jump right out, but if it is put into cold water that is gradually heated up,  it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. A drift slow enough can erase the memory of (or belief in) how much better things used to be, everyone is lulled into lower and lower expectations, lower effort, lower performance.

Always mark yourself with absolute standards regardless of your performance. Consider failures as temporary blocks towards achievement higher longer term goals. Always be reminded as a team this can have a catastrophic effect on end-goals

#stay-fit

Remaining fit is very important to have positive and open mind to solving problems, and reduce friction to improve efficiency for sustainable future & society. 

#keepgoing with #focus , have a happy and productive 2019!

Lessons From France v/s Argentina Game

Being a week-end it was easy to catch-up on FIFA World Cup games and what more than to see France and Argentina fight out. It was an outstanding game where team dynamics accompanied with individual caliber led to France edging Argentina out.  While it sounds sad and a heart-break for many Argentinian fans , one has to respect the game dynamics which led to this. Football is truly a team sport that reflects on how team dynamics can impact the outcome.

While having a objective is important for a team to deliver but it is not enough to make the team move. Here are some picks from my side while watching the game on how it could have meant a totally different result.

  • Lesson from fourth Goal : Check out the video
    • Planning : Mbappe was left unchecked , when he had already scored earlier in the game. The sheer agility at which this individual was making through defense lines was amazing and the ease with which he played it out! There was no struggle on his face , but he was left unmarked or almost given a free run. What happens on the field needs to be constantly analyzed to course correct and respond to changes around you. Initiatives if constantly not monitored , planned and observed can never meet desired outcomes. 
  • Lessons from being a star performer
    • Being a star performer comes with lot of burden. The constant limelight just kills it. People look upon you for being a role model , leader , planner & strategist .. almost everything. I think so at the end of the day it was too much for Messi. I guess somewhere the man was made to look bigger than mission. You can never be bigger than the mission itself , because then the focus on mission goes away. Yes you can be important to mission but portrayed or deemed bigger than mission for an initiative is not positive signs for success. 
  • Playing in decentralized approach
    • You got to do the best on what you do. A lot was seen from what the French side was trying to achieve. Players like Pogba , Mbappe were living the game with their own stride , doing what they knew best for the game and orchestrating a run through Argentinian defense.
  • French Teams fitness level
    • The speed and agility showed by the French made them look ready for the mission. They were making runs within 15 minutes at speed which Argentinians could not match with their skill or talent. When getting into an initiative you need to be very critical whom you pick for it as that can make or break your ability to succeed. You also need toe ensure that skill alone will not play it out , one has to be make it work !

The T.E.A.M

For last few years working across multiple organizations I have been involved and / or led many green field technology initiatives that are geared at bootstrapping new markets , re-platform in existing markets or unlock new business models. All these genres require teams to be formed or come together. Additionally in global set-ups you need to string teams across many locations to drive desired outcomes.

While we try to achieve set objectives, it becomes necessary to see what qualities should exist in  new or current teams so that they can stand up and deal with business pressure autonomously.

Here is my run-down [ you may through vast reading depth or previous references find some correlations in what I have hypothesized ]

TTenacity : The quality or fact of being able to grip something firmly; grip.
E : Energy : The strength and vitality required for sustained physical or mental activity.
A : Aspiration : A hope or ambition of achieving something.
M : Management : The process of dealing with or controlling things or people.

If as a team you can demonstrate Management & Aspiration with Energy & Tenacity then there is a greater chance that you would be able to put right level of effort to increase chances for success.

Write me back on what qualities you see could make a difference.

Reflections By Steven Sinofsky

I chanced to read following article Steven Sinofsky on Building Your Product Team  published on the MixPanel blog. It had some great insights  which , I  have captured for my readers and fellow companions who cross their path with product management.

From the above blog

Steven Sinofsky is known as one of product management’s earliest champions. In fact, he was at Microsoft when the company invented “v. 1.0” of the product manager career path.”

While I read through the article , I made this story come out more as my questions in mind as reflections followed by relevant portions from the blog as excerpts.

Why did product manager came into existence?

What is the world beyond developers , testers and marketers? , do they make the whole picture…The answers to that is “no” . We need people who can act as “Pivot” & iterate on the product instead of the marketers , who in turn should worry about demand generation.

Steven states that “Microsoft needed a role that helped making changes further upstream. That way, there would be people who could facilitate changing the code, and minimise big fights”

What value product managers add?

Product managers help achieve intersection between customer feedback and how it impacts the codebase. The role demands ability to glean data and generate focus to mobilise the group towards most high value generating activity.

Steven reflects as “product leadership to be deeply personal, something that must scale within the product manager as the product scales”

What can make a product manager successful?

It is very necessary for a product manager to have deep understanding of the product & more so if the product is a software , then technical acumen becomes very important. In addition to this having ability to manage people and channelise their thought process is a very relevant soft skill that they need to possess.

Steven mentions in the blog that “knowledge helps facilitate a discussion. It makes one run through higher-level strategic thinking. It is important to understand the argument being made and then have a healthy way to address that.”

In Steven’s words “Skills in technology, user experience, and empathy (with internal team members and customers) are prerequisites that can be honed and trained. While building your expertise as a PM requires a mastery of all three areas, it’s important to remember that you’re never “done” building your skill set”

“There can be millions of debates that need to be addressed but sensing the meta-level information about the conversation – is the best entry point for problem solving.”

I think that is what makes a transaction based mind-set differentiate from a strategic outlook.