Category Archives: Management Toolkit

Book Review – Scarcity – True Cost Of Not Having Enough

I have been reading the Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much , which is a 2013 book by behavioural economist Sendhil Mullainathan and psychologist Eldar Shafir. It has been one of the most revealing books on certain behaviours which we exhibit in everyday life given our varied circumstances.

If you read through various chapters of the books , the authors have brought out real life examples that will make you know more about scarcity and its impact. By constantly loading the mind with other processes, it leaves less “mind” for the task at hand. Scarcity directly reduces bandwidth – not a person’s inherent capacity, but how much of that capacity is currently available for use.

Scarcity alters how we look at things; it makes us choose differently. This creates benefits; we are more effective in the moment. But it also comes at a cost; our single-mindedness leads us to neglect things we actually value!

part – one : The Scarcity Mindset

As leaders we talk about alot about being focussed , remain careful not to use this as a force function because it can hamper lateral thinking & our ability to develop systems approach within the organization.


Scarcity creates more scarcity and the examples quoted are a reflection of these real life dilemmas

  • How hard was it to pack your suitcase for a holiday! Well, that probably depended on two things: the amount of stuff you wanted to bring, and the size of your suitcase. This is a wonderful analogy for many decision areas in life.
  • For those of us trying to lose weight, the “stuff to pack” represents the amount and type of food we’d like to consume, and the suitcase represents the restricted calorie count of our diet plan.
  • For those of us struggling with poverty, we must determine how to best cover our bills, grocery shopping, and other purchases, given our finite budget.

Understanding the role of bandwidth helps us understanding specific circumstances.

part – two: Scarcity Creates Scarcity

As leaders we never have enough time . It also is true that as we grow ourselves in a given role we play , we tend to become more busy , we are providing less attention to every aspect being thrown at us . Our ability to absorb has to be of higher order to process a well informed decision. It is important therefore that we group things in a manner that we become more effective. Context switching is ineffective and as leaders we should minimise its impact.


The Firefighting Trap

part – three – Designing for Scarcity

Some unfortunate incidents At St. John’s and NASA have reflected upon the above mentioned trap which is a special care of scarcity trap. There will always be “too many problems and not enough time”. You will solve urgent ones and put nonurgent on burner. In engineering organization , we are always too busy meeting deadlines for each of our platform components that we forget to look at how the components will fit together. Recall what I have alluded about systems thinking at the start if blog. Without having a systemic view you cannot get components to to work for each other as opposed to against.

Organizations can create a domino effect , with each individual member pulling tam towards firefighting and reduced bandwidth . But organization can also be insightful , creating environments conducive to the successful management of scarcity challenges

part – three – Designing for Scarcity

As a leader of the organization you’ll need to work with so many constraints and limitations of resources but still need to complete the task well within time. One should dig deep within themselves through network effect of strong peer and management teams that help one to get comfortable with uncomfortable questions.

Our true leadership needs to address

  • Identification of true scarce resources [ first step ]
  • Prevent underappreciation of complexity of managing scarcity and the benefits that come from doing it just a little bit better

https://productcoalition.com/my-deep-work-experiment-dabbling-in-praxis-e7ed2b92cb0d

Async Communication

The topic of asynchronous communication has gained great momentum through the pandemic. The office settings did not help us acknowledge the amount of time we spent in meetings , but through remote working it has become surfaced as a dominant pain that we are in meetings all the time! Terms like focus time , personal hour etc. have gained traction and everybody is trying to find space between blurry lines of work and home. It seems to be a never ending battle.

Personally for me I have not been able to realize the significance of focus time , as for decades we operated with out , going around doing our job. I think that we have a set of things to do , run and drive outcomes and most of the job profiles will not allow for the concepts of focus time to be successful although analytics and software implements will make a recommendation for same. It also confuses other people who want to work , discuss and brainstorm , whether I should reach out or not!

For me following strategy works best

  • Being an early riser , I tend to read and clear my Inbox before starting my regular days
  • Use the concept of urgent and important to determine how to create short term focus [ needs to answered within a day ] versus [ week ] or [ month ] . Beyond that it does not require attention now
  • I try to gamify time management and use asynchronous methods of guiding through my workloads by keeping lean focus area list , leverage negotiation and delegation to increase greater span of work and rest goes to backlog
  • Write first culture is important to drive thought process and discussion. Without writing we can never move forward and will always rely on verbal communication which is meeting
  • Using tools effectively to drive To-Do lists and putting specific blocks on calendar to carry out desired tasks.
  • Maintain to-do list at personal level , group level and 1-1 level to drive agenda at different velocity and focus
  • Create focused chat groups for short term goals and encourage no-meetings but asynchronous communication
  • I re-purpose meeting to cover additional agenda and avoid another meeting
  • Strengthen decision making . It seems that we try to be risk averse and find more people to help take decision because we are either not breaking the problem to manageable levels or are too weary to take a call and move forward.

Above are some of practical everyday ways of managing . Having said that there is no perfect answer and you would still have bad days. In order to focus continue to keep this problem at the core of efficient working so that everybody is reminded not to be pulled into a meeting without a purpose and if pulled should have exit path with some action items [ of which one should be not to have another meeting ]

Good Reads

F.A.S.T Approach To Product Strategy

A few weeks back I wrote a blog post on how you can bring technology and growth more close to realization by adopting 5S Tech Strategy The blog post talked about taking a 5S approach towards product development that could help create a more robust & user centric product. I am extending my thinking now at strategic level to make an attempt at addressing the problem we face today :- How to counter the rapid change happening around us.

In so many years , the only thing I would ever speculate would be about an outcome of a cricket match or weather in cities I would have visited , but that still came with certain level of confidence; Today policies , businesses & impact on people has gotten reduced to a level of speculation never seen before! Feedback loop that drives future has shortened and is demanding faster reaction time.

In this blog , I will talk about the F(lexible) A(daptable) S(wift) T(ransformational) approach to Product Strategy. Each of the four pillars have been described by taking examples that are recent and defining in how they are impacting lives & society.

Flexible

Pandemic has shown us that flexibility is a key attribute that any design will have to cater for future. If we do not carry that trait our ability to respond will be constricted.

Health & fitness as a product is currently driving the Indian urban market. People now are willing to spend a good amount of their disposable income towards gyms, health devices like Fitbit and many more. The running events or rather the Marathon events are slowly gaining popularity in India, especially in Metros. Number of professional runners in India who train themselves through out the year to participate in Marathons is increasing by triple digit figures year on year.

But due to pandemic this activity has been drastically , where the whole joy of running in groups , meeting up and combining social activity with physical sport has gone for a toss. So should they stop organizing events ?

The obvious answer is NO , most of these event management firms have shifted to a virtual format where-in they are still able to charge 50% of registration fee than a normal event and provided for a simple mechanism to upload results post your run. They are trying to be flexible about where you run , when you run and how you measure performance.

Key Take Away : The product should be Flexible enough to continue to cater to its addressable market and foster engagement with its user base

Adaptable

Breweries and distilleries will make the switch from booze to hand gel as the government relaxed manufacturing rules in a bid to make up for shortages of alcohol-based disinfectants. Credit: Stock image/Pixabay

In late March , Belgium gave the go-ahead to breweries, distilleries and other recognized alcohol-makers to exceptionally produce disinfecting hand gel as demand surges due to the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.

The Rubbens Distillery was one of the first businesses to cater to a new pandemic-related niche — making hand sanitizer in addition to gin. The pandemic has forced many European businesses to improvise. This Belgian gin distillery now has a popular line in hand sanitizer!

More examples across Europe reflect upon how the crisis forced thousands of companies to adapt — either to stay afloat, or to cater to a new pandemic-related niche. In France, perfumeries made disinfectant. In Denmark, a gourmet restaurant now sells only burgers. Elsewhere in this Belgian town, a lingerie manufacturer pivoted from corsets to COVID, and now produces face masks.

Key Take Away : The product / solution should be Adaptable to serve unrelated needs emanating from its customer base.

Swift

Swiftness to respond , is a great attribute to have. We often see inflexibility that comes when using different technology stacks and it becomes difficult for engineering teams to respond swiftly to changing market dynamics and retain market share. If you look at the new wave of platform hypothesis you would come across the following terms more often than ever :

Microservices based, API-first, Cloud-native SaaS and Headless.

It is agile and nimble, always up to date approach that can help provide swiftness to your solution if the underlying platform is able to support the above tenets.

Whilst above is an example from how digital needs to transform and respond to changing business strategy. The following example is from manufacturing where 3D-printing platform have countered supply chain disruptions enabling on demand solutions for needs ranging from personal protection equipment to medical devices and isolation wards. the digital versatility and quick prototyping of 3D-printing has enabled the rapid mobilization of the technology and a swift response to emergencies in a closed loop economy.

An Italian engineering company, Isinnova, came up with a 3D printable respirator parts for free to help keep coronavirus patients alive , called a venturi valve, it connects to a patient’s face mask to deliver oxygen at a fixed concentration. The valves need to be replaced for each patient. The biggest supply crunch is with ventilators, but respirator parts like the ones in Italy and even simple nasopharyngeal swabs for testing are all in short supply. Meanwhile, the technology of 3D printing, which allows digital design of parts and the “printing” of them off a machine that creates them layer by layer, is ideally suited to emergency manufacturing because it is fast, cheap and can be done without a big factory

COURTESY OF ISINNOVA

Key Take Away : The platform / solution should be enabled to provide Swift response to the challenges that are thrown by macro factors governing the market.

Transformational

With above tenets in design , the product offering needs to be truly transformational to disrupt the market. May 26th was historic day in spaceflight era. It was a start of new journey. For the first time ever on this day , SpaceX launched a crewed mission to the International Space Station . NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Douglas Hurley took this journey on Crew Dragon spacecraft and shepherded it into a new era of space exploration.

At $1.7 billion dollars, SpaceX’s Crew Dragon vehicle is the least expensive spacecraft developed since the Mercury Program, which, adjusted for inflation, cost the agency $2.7 billion!

The SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft for Demo-2 inside the company’s hangar at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center.

Another fun fact is that the astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley drove to the launchpad in an electric car manufactured by Tesla, another of Musk’s pioneering companies, foregoing the “tin-can” Astrovan that has been the traditional crew transport since the US began sending humans into space in 1961 🙂 .

Self driving cars and reusable space rockets , we would have never imagined to move out from prototypes to production systems , but that is a reality now and maturing everyday!

Key Take Away : For a product to truly disrupt the market it has to be Transformational unless that happens competition will catch on and take over.

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!

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!

Evolving Through Aggregation – Product Thinking

I am quoting here from the great Nobel Laureate Herbert Simon

H. SIMON explains through his famous Hora and Tempus Parable how complexity may have evolved:
“Let me introduce the topic of evolution with a parable. There once were two watchmakers, named Hora and Tempus, who manufactured very fine watches. Both of them were highly regarded, and the phones in their workshops rang frequently – new customers were constantly calling them. However, Hora prospered, while Tempus became poorer and poorer and finally lost his shop. What was the reason?
“The watches the men made consisted of about 1.000 parts each. Tempus had so constructed his that if he had one partly assembled and had to put it down – to answer the phone say – it immediately fell to pieces and had to be reassembled from the elements. The better the customers liked his watches, the more they phoned him, the more difficult it became for him to find enough uninterrupted time to finish a watch.
“The watches that Hora made were no less complex than those of Tempus. But he had designed them so that he could put together subassemblies of about ten elements each. Ten of these subassemblies, again, could be put together into a larger subassembly; and a system of ten of the latter subassemblies constituted the whole watch. Hence, when Hora had to put down a partly assembled watch in order to answer the phone, he lost only a small part of his work, and he assembled his watches in only a fraction of the manhours it took Tempus.

I find this has lot of value for product managers to read and glean through. Pick facts through an unrelated systemic explanation as above.

There are couple of questions which I did like product managers to take as a riddle and read through for answers or thoughts :

  • How TO construct strategy as sub-assembly designs to pave a roadmap of evolution of design via aggreations of loosely coupled blocks?
  • How NOT TO consider the sub-assemblies merely as lego blocks bit instead find sub-assembly patterns as more concrete lego bricks made up of blocks ?
  • How TO find balance between increasing complexity and evolution of design to minimize disruption?

These principles would apply to any kind of ecolutionary iniative one would take up and can define impacts that are both technical as well non-technical.

Strategy & Traits Of A Product Manager

Product Managers are increasingly gaining ground in an era where shipping software to shipping the right software for customers is becoming important. With new approach of customer driven development , it will become increasingly imperative that the product managers have a strategic bend to make the cut.

The role is a complex jack-of-all-trades persona that requires mastery of a diverse range of skills from programming, engineering, and user experience design to legal, PR, and marketing. Product managers serve as the communication hub between the engineers and designers and everyone else in the organization. It’s a strategic, decision-making role that touches on just about everything at a technology company.

Some of the following traits can help products managers to be the brain behind the approach in product , platform or the ultimate solution:

  • Be a future visionary and product evangelist

Anticipating the what is coming by talking and analyzing stories around you is an important aspect of being a strategic thinker as a product manager. One needs to look inward as well outward , separate the philosophy from tools to create a meta layer of information that will allow to frame the vision. Socializing and presenting what is being build and encouraging people to play with the tooling allows you to create a community driven approach for bettering the product vision.

  • Master technical know-how

Developing a T-shape profile is very important aspect of product management , know enough to visualize , postulate and present various options.Understanding of technical concepts is very important to create a relationship with the technology team and then be able to communicate what the technology team might say , or refer to as challenges.

  • Master the art and science of syncing across multiple platforms

Product managers need the experience and know-how to manage one product and features across all platforms. There’s whole art and science of keeping your product aligned and synced across diverse platforms. One needs to organize the development of the product to match the way users consume it split up across different experiences.

  • A knack for communication

Communication is very important to keep stakeholders updated across the across multiple views. In modern day distributed set-up it becomes imperative to use multitude of tool-kits (slack , zoom ) to support effective communication and publish short-term road-maps with quick iterative execution. They should ideally be excellent presenters, skillful diplomats, and good listeners

  • Know their way around metrics

It goes without saying that all product managers must know their way around metrics. They should understand what’s behind a meaningful metric. Product Managers should be well versed in analytics and methods of extracting the proper data.

Be The Thinker In System

In the modern world knowing only one thing does not suffice and it holds true across the board. The area in product management seems to become the biggest testimony to this aspect. If you want to be a strategic contributor as a product manager then in that case it becomes important that one should first become the thinker in system. I recommend everybody taking this path to definitely add to your reading list the following book : Think In Systems  by Donella H. Meadows

Coming back to the main point , what I did like to reflect here is that today, you can’t host your product on one platform. Usually, your product lives on multiple platforms or even more the platform itself is an net-sum product suite —your website, partner API , connecting systems etc.  Product managers need the experience and know-how to manage one product and features across all platforms. There’s whole art and science of keeping your product aligned and synced across diverse platforms.

One needs to be build understanding by observing and mapping the System, for example using the well-known method of User Journey Mapping.  They’re valuable as a way to describe your understanding of a system, and are best applied in collaboration with your critical stakeholders. The value of mapping and modelling the systems you’re trying to influence is that it helps you to spot the trends and patterns within that system.

Focus on following aspects:

Flow

What information is shown to who, how is that information shown, and who can manipulate information.

Rules

What governs the systems and how it operates. The bounded and unbounded context. The macro effects on the system.

Mindset

Changing behavior is not a joke but encouraging a new approach or adoption is an important point that needs to be kept in mind of a product manager to be a strategic thinker.

How do you organize the development of the product to match the way users consume it split up across different experiences? 

Playing Position Of A Product Manager

We are faced with decisions and trade-offs on a daily basis.  Moreover, we are challenged to ensure that product features, target markets, and technologies align with overall business and strategic objectives.  Projects are advanced based not only on technical merits but also sales, revenue, and profit forecasts.

Product management is one of the most strategic yet least understood business functions in many organizations. The roles and expectations of product management vary considerably from one organization to another. Even within the same company, product management is often carried out in different ways.

This lack of agreement on what product management is may also cause role confusion and miscommunication inside the organization, leading to sub-optimal performance. Foremost role of product management is to help bring process and business savvy to the creation and delivery of products. 

Play out some scenarios and you will see what is happening around you:

  • Traditional consumer companies have always considered product management to be a marketing role, which is why it seems to make sense to put product management there. And it does make sense–if marketing is defining and delivering products. Alas, many technology companies consider the term “marketing” to be synonymous with “marketing communications.” So if the Marketing department is only about delivering products but not defining them, product managers should be elsewhere.
  • For technology companies, particularly those with enterprise or B2B products, the product management job is very technical. This is why we see many product managers reporting to Development or Engineering. However, we’ve seen a shift away from this in recent years. The problem appears to be technical product managers spend so much time writing requirements, they don’t have time to visit the market to better understand the problems their products are designed to solve. They spend so much time building products that they’re not equipped to help deliver them to the market.
  • Very few product managers find themselves in a Sales (or Sales & Marketing) department. It seems clear product managers in Sales will spend all of their time supporting sales people with demos and presentations. The product managers become the sales engineers.

In effect, subordinating product management relegates it to a support role for the primary goal of the department & product managers end up being project managers and Development gofers.

My passing thought would be that it would never matter where product management reports. What matters is how product management is made more accountable and that would mean trying to answer , what does “success” look like for a product manager?

Gamify Time Management

Sometimes life is too chaotic for one to make any sense. Although you are not over-worked or spending sleepless nights but still you find yourself in midst of a battlefield filled with conflicting priorities. Managing under such circumstances is not stress and sometimes can lead to conflict within team members as well.

Among the time management tools and concepts available to us, the urgent-important matrix is one of the most helpful. I had talked about it long ago in one of my blogs Urgent v/s Important Matrix , but am revising this today with more perspectives which I build with my team members who have started using this as a way to communicate and align to each other for creating maximum focus and momentum on goals that are important to them as well across the group

I would have not done a good job of providing some history around this simple tool , so for the inquisitive one here is the background on how this framework or concept came into being:

“This concept was popularised by Stephen Covey in his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, but it was actually used by U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower long before Covey made it famous. That’s why this method is also often referred to as the Eisenhower Matrix. “

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Multiple Figures

My objective of using the matrix is not only to organise self but also try to find management synergy across the teams and us this as a tool for alignment between various people trying to work in an agile and shared environment.

First figure explains principles of management around how to create Focus on urgent and important tasks and use power of delegation to deal with things that might not be important but are urgent. Delegation allows those tasks to be attended for as they are urgent but via a different resource pool for whom it becomes a focus a area. Imagine this as a connected web of focused tasks.

While I recommend to use power of negotiation to determine whether Important but rather not urgent task should have your mind-share or can it be moved to a zone of backlog which is not urgent and not important. In turn imply Kanban then to manage backlog.

At all times your focus area or rather urgent and important task list should be lean with a constant decision making process to shift them through various traversal paths as shown in last figure in my napkin notes. The idea is to keep the list lean , eliminate tasks by using power of negotiation and delegation. Create backlog and then manage it effectively to feed back your focus areas.

The second figure in my notes is kind of interesting illustration on how agile play into this and what velocity you should maintain at times deal with quadrants. Focus with high velocity to burn your urgent and important task. Most important to achieve business goals (Learn fast / fail fast). Negotiation will be a slow burn process whilst backlog tends to remain still. It is important to note that we should maintain high velocity for for urgent but not important tasks as they have a burden on your system and you would not want the focus areas to be impacted at any times by this quadrant. That is why power of delegation along with right skill sets tends to help a lot while we deal with this quadrant.

Hope you find these new explanations and illustrations useful while you manage your work or even for that matter personal life. I like to see this as gamification of work that adds a fun element when various team members talk this language and create a momentum that is required to execute business operations in a steadfast mode.