Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Move with the Cheese

Joe, name changed, is a seasoned programmer. He has mastered the art of coding over the years and is extremely methodical and effective. Watching him juggle with the desktop often reminds me of a painter with a painting-brush in his hands and canvas in front of him asking him to pour all his skill, imagination and passion for the art. Joe, undoubtedly, is a genius in his own rights.

Peter is a budding programmer. Young Peter is extremely talented and is filled with the exuberance of youth. He is always ready to what Rajiv Popat calls “make a small dent in the universe”. He came up with an idea of introducing TDD in our team. TDD requires a drastic change in approach to Software Development. Joe is a conventional. He has mastered and art being conventional for years and is extremely confident and comfortable in doing his job the conventional way. The time and sweat he has invested in mastering the conventional way of software development should not be wasted. Joe resisted.

Apparently the reaction might appear reasonable to many of us. Is it a healthy one? Let’s try analyze.

I read this book called Who Moved My Cheese few months back which might help us come to a conclusion. The story has four character, two mice - Snif and Scurry and two "little people" - Hem and Haw. Every day they would go out into the Maze looking for Cheese. One day they found a Cheese station with ample of Cheese to satisfy their needs for ever. They happily settled down there hoping that they will never be wandering in the Maze in search of the Cheese again. They started making future plans assuming that the Cheese was theirs forever.

One day, they woke to find that the Cheese station was empty. The mice bound by their nature did not yell or moan. Moreover, they had been noticing that the amount Cheese was decreasing every day. They somehow were anticipating this coming. They moved on in search of new Cheese immediately. But the little people were little people after all. How could they let go of the Cheese which was a right and not just a privilege? Not done. They must raise their voice. They must bitch and cry. The world is conspiring against them. They must get to the bottom of things and find out why this injustice was brought to them.

Hem said that they should not keep quiet. They are not just mice. They are little people. They are smarter. This is when Haw suggested that aren’t really acting any smarter. They should be going out in the Maze again and search for new Cheese. Hem refused to listen to him.

Haw alone set out in search of Cheese again. It was tough and challenging but Haw kept counseling himself to remain positive. Soon he started liking and enjoying this ride. It was a refreshing experience.

After searching for a while, Haw found a new Cheese station, bigger and better than the old one. He saw the two mice already were here and had reaped the benefits of responding early to the change. Haw started a little late but still took the challenge and adapted to the change. His Cheese was here for the taking. What happened to Hem remains a mystery.

Cheese here is a metaphor for our means of happiness and the Maze signifies the big wide world full of challenges and uncertainties. But you must run into the Maze to find your share of Cheese. Every now and then you will find your Cheese being moved. You must move accordingly in order to survive. The smartest of people will keep their eyes open and anticipate change and will be the first to adapt. They will reap the ‘early bird’ benefits. The less smart ones will see the change late. Their response would be reactive rather than proactive. They would still survive and do well because they have moved with the Cheese. And then there is the third kind. These people would resist to the change. They will yell, cry, lament, moan and complain but all they will not do is adapting to the change. They are destined to extinct.

Joe must take a leaf out of this book. He must push himself out of his "comfort zone". He must run into ‘Maze’ and believe in the fact that he will definitely have his share of the 'Cheese'

Monday, May 4, 2009

As Swami Vivekananda Said ...

When I Asked God for Strength
He Gave Me Difficult Situations to Face

When I Asked God for Brain & Brown
He Gave Me Puzzles in Life to Solve

When I Asked God for Happiness
He Showed Me Some Unhappy People

When I Asked God for Wealth
He Showed Me How to Work Hard

When I Asked God for Favors
He Showed Me Opportunities to Work Hard

When I Asked God for Peace
He Showed Me How to Help Others

God Gave Me Nothing I Wanted
He Gave Me Everything I Needed

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Face Your Fear

I am one of those guys who become ‘a bundle of nerves’ when put on stage. Public speaking is makes me fidgety. It’s not that I am the worst speaker around, but my nervousness really makes me a bad one at times. Ironically, I also happen to be a guy who loves to express. Trust me, this is a tricky combination. Though, you always do not need a podium to express you idea. But to be able to put your perspective of things confidently in public has its own benefits.

I remember my first day in college when I was pushed on the stage in front hundreds of students and teaching staffs. I was supposed to just introduce myself and let in public three interesting fact about myself. And guess what? I did exactly the same but the way I did it was a little interesting. I had my eyes fixed on a corner of the wall and my speech so evidently mugged up that a slightest of interruption would make me recite it from the beginning.

Well, since then I was hardly forced and I never chose to test my public speaking skills. Though I was saved of the embarrassments, it was a 'curse in a disguise'. As I grew in my professional life, I realized more and more the need to be able to express confidently my views and takes on things in meetings, in front of the management and also in front of the client. I would, at times sit tight or go dumb as if it had become a part of my nature. I was often bogged down in a discussion or an argument. Not good!Not good at all.

A sensible friend and colleague came up with an idea of starting a "Communication club" in our office. Here people like me who need to work on their communication skill would get an opportunity to improve. I latched on it.

A few days back I gave a public speech. Good or bad, I don’t know and I don’t care. I was there for a different reason. I was there to look straight into the eyes of one of my biggest fears. I am happy to think that I was able to do exactly that. I am glad that the whole "Communication Club" thing happened and I am making the most out it.

I know a couple of colleague who like me suffer from the same ‘phobia’. But sadly they didn’t show enough courage the take the first step. I wish, like me, they too realize sooner than later that the only way to overcome a fear is to ...face it.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

EQ - Your Success-Meter.

I have been reading these “Success Guide” craps for a while now trying to figure out what it takes to be successful in life. Is there any rule for success? Research has shown that IQ (intelligence quotient) regarded as the measure of intelligence is not solely responsible for success. Rather it is not even adequate the measure of intelligence.

In my life I have seen a number of people with high IQ doing well but not exceedingly well. I have failed to establish a relationship of proportionality between IQ and success when I look at the living examples around me. So saying that a child with a very high IQ will surely become a scientist might not always be true. IQ is just the ability to solve logical problems. But does solving logical problem alone guarantee success in life? Well, I doubt so.

Human intelligence has another aspect too called the EQ (emotional intelligence quotient). Emotional Intelligence is how effectively does one understand and manage one’s own emotion as well as those of others. Salovey and Mayer (1990) who defined EI as “the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions.”

Have you ever woke up in the morning and found yourself unhappy or uncomfortable for no reason. Nothing has gone wrong so far. Yet your lovely wife wishing you “good morning” doesn’t make you feel so good about the morning. May be the reason is purely physiological. May be you didn’t have a sound sleep. May be yesterday’s stress still has its “hangover”. Reason, whatsoever it may be, is not going to help your day ahead. An emotionally intelligent person is the one who can “let go” and get rid of this emotional state and motivate oneself to make the day ahead productive. A person with a high EQ will have an accurate interpretation of what he or she is feeling and know better how to manage it.

A few days back, I happened to catch red-handed a team member of mine lying to me about his assignment. He committed to have completed the job when it was half finished. This really made me angry and I shouted at him badly. But probably I didn’t react to the situation appropriately. A person more emotionally intelligent than me would have shown more empathy. Having assessed and understood that it is his insecurity, fear and guilt that he was not able to deliver on time has made him lie, I should have used that information to communicate to him and motivate him to do a better job in future. That would have brought the efficient best out of him. That should have been my end goal.

Good news is that EQ is something which can be worked on and improved. This will require constant hard work and focus. There are number of tools available like books, training and even materials on the internet which can help one improve one’s EQ. You will have to put in conscious effort every single day. But surely with every inch of moving forward you will realize that the dividends waiting for you are probably richer that you realized.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

In love with Agile

Of late, we have been using agile software development methodology. Within a very short span of time we realized the sheer simplicity and effectiveness of the process. I am in love with Agile.

More often than not customers do not completely know what they actually want at the beginning of a project. Generally this is the time when the project contract is signed. Obviously, more often than not the development team ends up providing a solution which partially or not at all solves their problem (even if contract is met completely). This leads to a very high degree of dissatisfaction among the customers. Agile software development methodology answers the problem with a simple, common sense driven approach to software development. It allows the customer to have a direct visibility into the direction in which the project is heading. This allows them to correct and modify an existing requirement or even come up with a brand new one at any point of time in the project. The transparency that Agile provides results in a high level of confidence and satisfaction among the customers.

Agile is about embracing change. It encourages you to accommodate change at any point of time. It even welcomes the new one. These changes are then added to the backlog. And the list is prioritized again with the help of customers.

Agile is about delivering continuous stream of value. It breaks down the task in small pieces of deliverable which can be accomplished in a short period of time, say a fortnight (this is called sprint). These task pieces are called backlog items. The list is then prioritized with the help of the customer. Small deliverables are released on a regular basis based on the backlog. The customers play with it and give their invaluable feedback.

Plan ahead but do not get too far ahead of yourself. Agile does not bother you about planning for remote future. It plans for one sprint at a time. This gives the customer small deliverables on a frequent basis to work and play with. This also ensures a frequent feedback from the customer.
Business fellows must get involved. This is the trick we missed out on in the conventional software development models, so to say. We did not get the customers involved enough. This resulted in the project floating like a boat without sail. Having regular input and feedback ensures that the team is on the right track. Important and critical features (decided by the customers) are built and tested first. It is also comforting for the customer because he or she has a clear visibility of where his or her investment is at any point of time.

Face-to-face communication on daily basis. Agile understands the fact that most effective communication is, in fact, face-to-face communication. Hence it’s a practice that the team must meet at least for five minutes daily and discuss about what did they did yesterday and what they are planning to do today. It is also discussed if there is any impedance. This sort of meeting is called a scrum in the agile world.

All in all, what is unprecedented about using agile is the level of customer satisfaction that achieved through transparency and clear communication. But Software development like life in many ways is not always dictated by any rule of thumb. Most of the things lie in the "gray area". Weather to adapts a tool or not has to be more of your demand and judgment thing. After all, these are mere tools, not gospel.