Book Review: Organisation Culture – Getting it Right

Author: Naomi Stanford

This book on corporate culture is intended for managers and business people who are struggling to:
a) Understand the culture of their organization
b) Get a grip on why it matters
c) Get their culture right for their business strategy
d) Avoid the common mistakes of “culture change”
e) Keep their culture from getting stuck

In the preface of this book the author Naomi Stanford, an organization design consultant,  describes how she went about writing this book. She first sent an e-mail to everyone in her address book spelling out clearly what sort of readers the book was intended for . She also asked them to respond with three questions they would like to be answered through the book. She received hundreds of questions in response which she categorized under the following chapters of this book:

  • What is organization culture?
  • Can culture be measured?
  • Does culture matter?
  • Is culture related to business success?
  • Culture: creation, accountability and responsibility
  • What is the right organization culture?
  • Can culture be created, changed, or protected?
  • Can culture be learned?

While writing the book, Stanford did her best to ensure that all the questions raised by the individuals who responded were addressed.

Apart from  examples and experiences drawn from several organizations and individuals, each chapter has a detailed case study which discusses an organization’s approach to its culture. The lessons one can learn from these approaches have been succinctly summarized.  Case studies are drawn from – McDonalds, Zappos, IKEA, W.L. Gore & Associates, Toyota, Reckitt Benckiser, Ford. In addition there is also a case study on how Nik, an individual went about learning the culture of an organization he worked for in China.

A very valuable section in this book is an appendix consisting of a series of eight exercises (one for each chapter) which help an organization/individual to :

  • Compile a short,  realistic guide that would help a visitor or a newcomer to an organization to understand something about its culture.
  • Develop their own measurement process and metrics to measure or assess their culture.
  • Get insights and practice in recognizing the characteristics that contribute to make their culture distinctive and value adding.
  • Make connections between business success and culture.
  • Create discussion about clarifying the accountability and responsibility for organization culture.
  • Learn how to respond to different types of  cultural environments
  • Plan for culture change without announcing and launching a formal change program
  • Consider how they read cultural values and what type of organization they would feel more comfortable joining.

As intended by the author, this book provides a very common-sense, practical, realistic  and pragmatic approach towards understanding and working with organization culture.

Though the first few pages were slightly dull, the book became progressively more interesting and as a whole turned out to be an excellent and enlightening read.

Highly recommend it as “the first book one should read about Organization Culture” !

Publication Details: Published:2010; Publisher: Profile Books Ltd. ; Paperback: 288 pages.



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Viewpoint : Process Mentors for Startup Companies

Startup companies operate in very uncertain and rapidly changing business environment.  Under such conditions delivering a high quality product in a timely and economical manner is crucial for obtaining tangible business benefits in terms of customer delight, revenue and profitability.

An effective and efficient product development process is one of the critical factors (the other two being people and technology) for developing a high quality product. Such a process is a set of related, structured well-defined activities or tasks – encompassing engineering, management and support areas like human resources development, marketing, sales, purchase, finance, facilities and administration- performed by skilled people using appropriate technology to develop a product.

Startups often encounter complex technical and business challenges which require creative out-of-the box solutions.  Well-defined processes for  activities like brainstorming, idea generation, innovation management,  prototyping , customer validation, risk identification, prioritizing the product/service features, estimation of effort, root-cause analysis of the problem, waste reduction,  decision making etc. , will greatly enhance the probability of arriving at appropriate solutions for such complex issues.

In addition to resolving complex issues a startup also has to deal with many routine, recurring operational activities which also need to be performed. Neglecting these activities may adversely impact the product engineering and business activities in a longer run.  These adverse impacts can either be prevented or can be handled in a very cost effective manner if appropriate processes are being followed while performing the necessary day-to-day tasks.

When the startup companies exit from the business incubators and scale-up their operations in terms of resources (staff, equipments, facilities)  and customer base, the product development, delivery and maintenance activities become more complex. This leads to increase in project management and people management issues especially those related to staffing, training, work environment, communication and coordination, performance appraisals, salaries and benefits. Business results depend a great deal on how well this increased complexity and issues are handled.

The informal way of product engineering and project management which worked well in the early stages of the startup will be found lacking in scaled-up operations. Business results will be unpredictable and there will be no repeatability of successful results in such scenario.  A well-established and documented process followed in a systematic manner will ensure such repeatability and will also reduce the dependencies on select few people.

Over the last few decades innumerable engineering and management best practices have been collated and organized into several process models or frameworks by various institutions, organizations or consortiums.  CMMI, ITIL, Agile, Lean, Six Sigma, ISO 9001, People –CMM are some of the more recognized ones.

Most of these process frameworks are defined from the perspective of a well-established medium to large size organization,  though the basic intent and principles of the practices described in these frameworks are applicable to organizations of any type and size.

For the startups and small organizations it means someone in their team investing a significant amount of time and effort to understand, interpret, choose , adapt these practices to their context and oversee their deployment  in order to reap maximum benefits out of these frameworks.

Few startups are willing to make such investment of their time and expertise in this area since they are preoccupied with their immediate short-term concern of getting their product out to their customers. As a result they are deprived of the business benefits which a good process can realize for them.

So though appropriate processes are a crucial need for furthering a startup’s business, factors like lack of bandwidth, expertise and inclination delay their definition and deployment till it is too late.

Business risks arising out of such situations can be mitigated by startups by engaging a process expert to serve as their mentor right from the inception phase of the startup till the culture of continuous process improvement takes root in the company.

Process Mentors first learn more about the startups they are mentoring – their business domain; their business model; their technology; their competitors etc.  They also get to know the current way of working of the company by observing the people at work for few days and holding focused conversations with them.

Having developed a basic understanding of these areas they start adding value to the startup’s operations by:

  • Identifying the current process pain points and bottlenecks to the smooth workflow.
  • Defining processes and procedures to address the pain points and bottle necks.
  • Basing the process solutions on the best practices drawn from various process frame works, and interpreting and tailoring it to the company’s needs and requirements.  Process solutions may cover various areas like product engineering, management and support functions.
  • Ensuring that the process solutions are as Agile and Lean as possible by focusing on minimizing the documentation overheads and waste reduction to improve operational efficiencies.
  • Training the staff on the defined processes and methodologies
  • Coaching and handholding the staff during implementation of processes.
  • Defining metrics to gauge the effectiveness of the processes.
  • Facilitating technical reviews and project reviews.
  • Facilitating periodic retrospectives to capture the lessons learned during the various stages of product development.
  • Facilitating root cause analysis and removal of commonly occurring problems
  • Promoting continuous learning and improvement by creating a information repository of reusable process artifacts and lessons learned
  • Preparing the company for external third-party assessments or certifications if needed.

To summarize, an effective and efficient product development process is a must not only for medium and large established companies but also for small startup companies. Process mentors with their wide experience in various established process frameworks can help set up agile and lean processes for startups. This will enable the company to deliver high quality products faster, better and cheaper.

(Please contact me for your Process Mentoring needs !)

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Book Review: People Analytics

Author: Ben Waber
People Analytics involves  measuring, collecting and analyzing the data which characterizes  the people’s behavioral patterns.
While the traditional methods of collecting such data has been through direct observations or through surveys, the emerging trend is the use of social sensors like company ID badges, cell phones etc.
Ben Waber, the author of this book is an expert on organizational dynamics and social sensing technologies.
Sociometric Solutions, a company co-founded by Waber  has developed a wearable a social sensing device – the Sociometric® Badge.  Sociometric® Badge has a variety of sensors embedded in it that extract social signals from speech and body movement,  measure the proximity and relative location of users during face to face interactions.
Analysis of such an enormous amount micro-level data measured and collected through a social sensing devices like Sociometric® Badges worn by the employees,  has a huge potential to  enable an organization to understand in a better manner, how their people work and collaborate. This will provide them with actionable insights for improving the effectiveness and productiveness of the work force.
The author substantiates this point by presenting several case studies (some of them drawn from his or his team’s experience) describing the use of  social sensing technologies in several organizations. These technologies unearthed powerful hidden people dynamics and networks within these organizations. Using this newly discovered knowledge, the management of these organizations “tweaked” their policies, procedures and work environment to dramatically improve both business performance and employee fulfillment!
Just to give some examples :

  • Changing the way call center employees spent their breaks increased their performance by 25% while significantly reducing stress
  • Quantifying the failure of marketing and customer service to communicate led to a more cohesive and profitable organization
  • Tweaking the balance of face-to-face and e-mail communication enhanced the value of both
  • Sensor data helped to discover who were the organization’s  real internal experts
  • Identifying employees involved in “creative” behaviors helped promote innovation throughout the  business
  • Sensors and simulations  help optimize organization’s  sick-day policies
  • Measuring informal interactions  improve the chances that a merger, acquisition, or “mega-project” will succeed

While the above results are quite impressive, in my view one of the major impediments in implementing the social sensor based people analytics will be the privacy issue.

Millions of  Facebook Postings and Tweets  indicate that nowadays people are less concerned about keeping their personal lives private. They seem to share news and pictures about almost everything with the whole world – everything right from what they eat for breakfast to how many rats their cats killed ! (Whether every one wants to know about such stuff is a different question !).

But I think when it comes to their being monitored by social sensors in their work places they will be more apprehensive about sharing their behavioral patterns and would perceive these sensors to be a major threat to their privacy.

The author discusses this crucial privacy issue too. He and his team have handled such issues in the studies they carried out by ensuring the following:

  • Data collection was opt-in and done after obtaining informed consent from the individuals.
  • Individuals under study controlled their own data i.e. they could delete the data pertaining to them if they wanted to ,thereby preventing the access to their information
  • Data was shared after aggregating it at team level so that it could not be attributed to an individual

Waber stresses that the organizations need to appropriately position data collection policies in a manner that increases trust and transparency. Also people should not be overly distracted with privacy concerns associated with widespread adoption of sensing technologies if they are deployed ethically.

The book also discusses  the benefits that will be possible in a few years, and what one  can achieve right now through  social sensing technologies.

To summarize this book shows that by leveraging the power of analytics,  new avenues for organizational development  open up for  everyone who has the responsibility for workplace performance.
We need to wait and see how this trend picks up.

On the whole a  very well written and interesting book to read !

Publication Details: Published:2013; Publisher: FT Press ; Hardcover: 240 pages.


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Book Review: People CMM 2nd Edition

Authors: Bill Curtis, William E. Hefley & Sally A. Miller

People Capability Maturity Model (P-CMM)   is a  Human Capital Management framework developed by Carnegie Mellon University. This framework is based on the best practices of diverse fields like human resources, knowledge management, and organizational development.
The purpose of this  framework is to help organizations to establish and characterize the maturity of their workforce practices and align these practices with their business objectives. P-CMM  also serves as a guide for an organization’s continuous workforce development  program .
There is no denying the fact that success of an organization is largely dependent on the talent of its workforce.  An effective implementation of P-CMM will enable the organization to attract, develop, motivate, organize and retain its talented people.
This book describes the  People Capability Maturity Model (P-CMM) in totality and is the single authoritative and valid reference for internal assessments and SCAMPI appraisals based on this model. It is a very significant contribution to the Human Capital Management literature.

The book is structured in two  main parts.
Part One  – Rationale and evolution of the People CMM; process maturity concepts; model’s  structure ; interpretation of the model’s practices; case studies of People CMM implementation.
Part Two – Key practices (the individual, managerial, and organizational practices that contribute to maturing workforce capability)of all the process areas identified in People CMM .

Though the book is very well structured, it is not an easy read . Moreover it is written in a very generic bureaucratic language with lots of repetitions throughout the book. This is to some extent understandable since the book has evolved from a technical report and is  meant to be used by process experts , auditors and assessors.  But the rest of the readers will have difficulty in interpreting this framework in the context of their organization. They will require professional help !

Nevertheless this is one book which line managers should refer to for structured implementation of the effective business value-adding workforce practices .

Publication Details: Published:2009; Publisher: Addison-Wesley Professional ;  Hardcover: 694 pages.


  • People CMM – Explored: A Quick Overview – This presentation provides a high level overview of the People CMM® model. This presentation can be used for gaining an initial awareness of key features of the model, and to understand the set of benefits that can be expected. I highly recommend going through this presentation before you start reading the book.
  • People Capability Maturity Model Version 2.0, 2nd Edition – This technical report covers more than 80 % content of the book. It does not contain experience reports and case studies discussed in the book.
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Book Review : The Professional – Defining the New Standards of Excellence at Work

Author: Subroto Bagchi
Who is a true professional ?
The author a well known business leader in Indian IT industry, redefines “professionalism”  in this book.
As per Bagchi, being professional is much more than accepting the responsibility and doing the job.
There are three fundamental qualities which defines a professional – ability to work unsupervised; ability to certify the completion of a job or task; ability to behave with integrity.
Going beyond fundamentals  a professional – is self-aware; not afraid to admit when he is wrong, does not hesitate to ask for help if needed; refuses to do something that does not align with his goals or values; takes a long term view while making decisions and building;  embraces new challenges and adapts to changes in his life, company, industry or culture; is comfortable dealing with things she was not trained for; understands the imperatives of our global economy and therefore culturally aware, connected and engaged with people around the globe.

All the above mentioned qualities have been very elegantly and precisely elaborated in this book through sixty short chapters. Examples drawn from author’s experiences and other real-life business situations clarify the ideas and concepts of professionalism even further. The writing style of the author is simple, easy to understand and very thought provoking.

A book which every professional should read and benchmark themselves against the yardstick laid out by Subroto Bagchi.

Publication Details: Published:2011; Publisher: Penguin Books India ; Hardcover: 256 pages.


Key Extracts  from The Professional : [A long , yet worthwhile reading]

Part One:  Integrity

  • A true professional works without supervision and has the  ability to self-certify the completion of his work.
  • Understanding and following the explicit and implicit code of conduct of a profession distinguishes a professionally qualified person and a professional.
  • Integrity in professional context means applying the 4 tenets
    • Follow Rules
    • Where rules do not exist, use fair judgment(voice of conscience)
    • When in doubt seek counsel
    • Faced with a difficult choice ask- can my act stand public scrutiny without embarrassment to me and my family ?
  • Do not bend or circumvent or flout the rules that do not suit professional or business interests. Contest it while following it.
  • When unethical things happen in places we hold in high regard, people begin to discount the subsequent messages they receive from them.
  • Value clarification is most needed when things are going wrong. People do not appreciate values when everything is going well.
  • Leaders need to talk the talk and walk the walk. They need to be transparent and explain to others what transparency means and why it is good.
  • Once people falter and begin looking at professional misconduct not in black and white but in shades of gray, value clarification takes a backseat.
  • An organization needs to articulate its position on integrity and publish the process for dealing with how a breach is reported and handled.
  • Investigate issues without fear or favor and irrespective of who is involved and what business implications could be. Speed is critical.
  • Clarity with which management thinks and the speed with which it acts determine the consequent social memory that guides the vast majority of employees and eventually makes the organization’s values tangible.
  • Following definitive action, the next step is communication. What to communicate and how to communicate is not always easy. Do not focus on getting the ‘right answers’ to these questions. The bigger question is whether or not an organization encourages conversation and has an existing framework to deal with such issues.
  • The responsibility of management does not end with handling a breach with speed and fairness. It must be sensitive to emotional fallouts in the rest of the organization and deal with them.

Part Two:  Self Awareness

  • Self-awareness is the streak that divides millions of professionally qualified people from the few hundreds who inspire professional respect.
  • Without self-awareness we may end up making wrong professional choices.
  • Self-aware people understand what their true strengths are; they know how much of their success is because of their inherent strength and how much is situational. Believing that any consequent success is only due to one’s inherent capacity is dangerously wrong.
  • A true professional has no need to embellish, name-drop, or pretend to be something he’s not. Being authentic might not always get us what we want, but that is better than the ignominy of being unmasked.
  • Self-aware person is conscious that there is bound to be some gap in his knowledge, knows that he may never bridge this gap and, most important, feels comfortable with this fact.
  • Actively seeking to bridge that gap is next important step in becoming self-aware. It is often achieved by seeking help from others. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness.
  • It is futile to make false comparisons with other person. They cause unnecessary pain and are certainly devoid of an understanding of other person’s journey to reach that position.
  • Professionals are in command of the situation even as they face the indeterminate challenges of the future. This comes from the ability to build a view of the future. This ability requires acknowledgement of the ground reality, a statement of intent in the overall direction, and sometimes a clear destination or purpose.
  • A professional who sees his work primarily as a means of earning money runs out of meaning very soon.
  • At a certain stage in one’s career, it is peer recognition that sustains us. But beyond it all, the ones who last the longest in the race are those who have given back to their professions. There is no sustenance bigger than the power to build and intellectual and emotional inheritance.
  • Watch yourself as you think, as you work and interact with others. You will be amazed how much you will learn about yourself, and this will help you move forward.
  • In extremely high-pressure situations, often the best emotion to express is control. And a true professional has a calibrated thermostat that prompts the degree of reaction and control required in any given situation.
  • A professional craves real feedback. The ability to freely seek feedback, and more important to take feedback and act on it, is something that can only be learned over time. And it requires constant effort to master.
  • Flirting with false attractions makes us lose affection for what is on hand. If you do not have a serious need for the offered job or assignment, do the professional thing and resist the temptation.
  • A professional does not let go of the basic ability to work. There are some things you must continue to do at any stage of your career. Not just the cerebral strategizing, but the actual work. Doing what are often thought of as menial tasks has a calming effect on us. Sometimes, the most profound ideas come not when you are in the board room but when you are washing dishes.
  •  A proactive person is self-confident about where a conversation could lead. He is genuinely interested in the well-being and welfare of the other persons. Not worried about creating work for themselves as an unwanted consequence of reaching out. They think on behalf of others and sometimes also thinking ahead of others, followed up by thoughtful preparation.
  • Power is never seized. It is always generated from within. To have the confidence to take charge in the most difficult and potentially dangerous of situations, is the hallmark of a true professional.
  • Professionals must know that humility is critical to enduring success. It is important not only to have humility but to have an appreciation for the potential in people below us – to recognize and nurture that special someone who right now is not quite there but may go further than you have.
  • Generosity, grace and courtesy become truly valuable only when shown to others at the height of your professional career.
  • Only the big picture, the context in which we live and work, makes the facts relevant. And it is only when we understand and actively look at the big picture that we will develop into grounded professionals.

Part Three:  Professional Qualities

  • One cannot be a great professional unless one has self-discipline and masters time. Time management requires a good health and the key to ensure health is eat, sleep, exercise and unwind in the right manner.
  • Doing more does not mean you are achieving more. As a professional, the trick is to do more by doing less. To do this, you have to disengage from doing too many things at the same time and prioritize based on where you can make a larger impact. A way to disengage from multiplicity is to learn or do something new that regenerates you and revives the spirit of curiosity and learning in you.
  • Use a to-do list to set small day-to-day goals that we have to get through on our way to achieving our vision. Goals have a powerful ability to shape our behavior, motivate us, create energy. The issue some people face is not the absence of a goal, but rather the presence of too many and the lack of prioritization.
  • Inability to say no results in time wasting, poor prioritization and the feeling of always been rushed and behind on deadlines. When you learn to say no to unimportant things, you have the time to take on a task in whose outcome you have a serious stake and in which you believe.
  • A professional realizes that work is a blessing. If you complain that you are bored with the routine work, remember routine things done well make life livable.
  • If there are genuine problem in the workplace the way out is in facing up to the problem and not in whining. Whining does not help. It is never too late to find out what you are cut out for and realign your job, rather than remain stuck and complain.
  • When you outgrow your work ask for more responsibilities and build into your work elements of service.
  • One must take a long term view  in building any professional relationship. Treat every small engagement with your suppliers, customers, industry associates and other stakeholders with all seriousness, as if life depends on it.
  • A good network, cultivated wisely and used well is a great expander of time. To make it work for you, you need to know two things: First, you have to contribute value to a network before you can get value from it. Second, it needs to be cultivated with a long view of time.
  • The professional network consists of mavens, connectors and evangelists. A maven produces, consumes and trades knowledge. A group of mavens is connected to an expert called connector. Connector provides clarification, assistance and linkages to other connectors. A group of connectors may link up to an evangelist, who is the last word in a particular field of knowledge. In the world of information overload these people can substantially cut down research and consulting time. Interaction with them is governed by the principle of mutual respect and affection which is built over years.
  • We must be aware of the amount of time we spend on doing unproductive things. Productive senior professionals do four things well – they get briefed; they seek help;they use commute time effectively; they periodically take mental shutdown.
  • A great job in an organization that does not align with your values is a waste of your time.
  • In a new job try to blend in and not blend out in the initial days. Build value before seeking recognition. Do not make comparisons with your previous job.
  • Always take the goodwill of everyone with you when you leave an organization.

Part Four: Managing Volume

  • Vision without action is far less noteworthy than action without vision. Vision must be acted upon; it must be externalized and articulated and encompass and include other people.
  • As a professional, bring the power of vision to your work, and act upon it. Do not be fazed by the size of your adversary; the size of your adversary determines the sized of your success.
  • The profession we are trained in and the organization we work for are the two foremost groups in which we need to invest out values and build affective regard. A value-centric view can be built only be people who are capable of emotions.
  • Values sometimes get internalized only when value transgressions take place. Through a negative set of examples people learn what is and what may not be acceptable behavior.
  • It is the duty of the top management to propagate the organization’s core values through personal behavior and demonstrate the price the organization is willing to pay to defend them.
  • The quality to do what you have said you will do, in the time you have committed to do it, must be applied to the smallest task in your life. Without it, you not only disrespect others, you disrespect yourself.
  • Without commitment we cannot achieve even small successes, much less large ones. Without commitment, we cannot give our best to our organization. And without commitment we cannot turn our vision into reality.
  • Great professionals are always prepared – for conversations, meetings and presentations. Prepared individuals project a good image of their company and of themselves, which is the first step towards making a client feel important.
  • A true professional, faced with a problem, will always question and find a root cause. While there is a clear direct linkage between professional competence and the ability to ask pertinent questions, true professionals must also ask intuitive questions.
  • Good professionals are invariably great listeners. Good listening leads to a very positive energy flowing between the two people who are in conversation. This positive energy is often a prerequisite for diagnosis, problem solving and collaboration.
  • Intent listening reduces the time required for communication, makes the other person feel at ease and builds collaboration within and outside the organization. When we listen well, we signal empathy and engagement. This in turn helps build sound judgement.
  • A professional must be empathetic, able to look at another person as a human being, to respect the other person no matter the state in which he or she appears.
  • Knowing your individual limitations and the limitations of your company, telling a client, “No, we do not have the capability you require,” is the professional thing to do.
  • Consensus in not always beneficial and can sometimes lead to disaster. This can be avoided if each professional in a group exercises his responsibility of dissent and purpose of the group’s decision making process is shifted from the urge to agree to the need to do the right thing.

Part Five: Managing Complexity

  • We live in a world of unfolding complexity and unscripted events. In past, for such events the professionals were told to make decisions based on data, facts and precedence. In future we need to get under the hood, to understand how the mind that makes critical choices in difficult moments work. What is the source of such pivotal decisions ? How do minds actually “read” the big picture and yet focus on the small details at the same time ?
  • The professional in the 21st century must learn to use both sides of the brain to harmonize both fact and feeling when making decisions.
  • Professionals must be aware of each of the  nine intelligences  – logical, literary, musical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, spatial, naturalistic, spiritual – to harness the brain, to think, to ideate, to innovate and solve problems. It is important to understand them and how each one works, because in varying degrees we are all gifted with all these intelligences to deliver better results and enjoy life more.
  • Literary intelligence – is about the capability to read and write. In the world in which we have to network and collaborate with dispersed teams, the capacity to build leadership proximity is determined by how well you express yourself through language.
  • Musical intelligence – Music is about harmony. Studies indicate that children who play an instrument learn to listen much better and grow up to be empathetic professionals.
  • Kinesthetic intelligence – Taking crucial decisions involving body and the mind on the fly, where each move is a new move. In many emergency situations life may depend on this ability. Professions of the future will need leaders with greater kinesthetic capability to reduce the gap between sense and response.
  • Interpersonal intelligence – Ability to converse naturally, make friends quickly, read other people’s emotions or solve difficult problems collaboratively. People with higher degree of interpersonal intelligence build more empathy and can work better as part of a group. In the future, the ideas of leadership, followership and situational collaboration will be extremely important.
  • Intrapersonal intelligence – Being self-aware having a realistic understanding of who we are and our true needs are.Emotionally more stable and can deal with ups and downs in life and work far better than others. This is extremely important in professionals whose decisions affect large number of other people.
  • Spatial intelligence – Navigational capacity. Mapping and charting a client organization; landing in an alien town and map it so well and become demonstrably more productive.
  • Naturalistic intelligence – As we call become more environmentally aware and sensitive to the planet,the ability to relate to the natural world will be much more in demand across professions.
  • Spiritual or Existential intelligence – connect more easily with the spiritual world and as a result better deflect anxiety, better deal with loss and better balance decisions with yardsticks of morality and self-governance. Professionals who can do the right thing the right way.
  •  Three Levels of Knowledge
    • Adaptive layer – just building  something based on handed over specifications; no innovation; no differentiation.
    • Experiential layer – getting into the shoes of the end user; build a product after understanding customer experience.
    • Existential layer – creeping into the minds of the customers.
  • Best professionals operate at the existential level of knowledge where it is about building the capacity to engage with people, problems, processes and opportunities. This requires empathy, inclusion, 360-degree thinking, recognizing the interconnected nature of things, looking for solutions outside the box, learning from unusual sources and finally cutting through complexity and doing so with empathy.
  • The Five Minds of the Future
    • Mind of Discipline – In addition to be professionally qualified, you need sustained, devoted practice over the years to know the nuances of your discipline, understand the big picture, the dependencies and the domain.
    • Mind of Synthesis – Capacity to look at any issue, any solution from a multidisciplinary viewpoint.
    • Mind of Creativity – To deal with unscripted problems. Finding best solutions on the fly using available resources.
    • Respectful Mind – Dealing others with respect.
    • Ethical Mind – Not just a morally sound mind. Understanding the larger implications of our decisions and our processes, and deriving our actions from a higher code of conduct – that of self-regulation and belief in the practice of fair dealing in every transaction.
  • The true professional has the capacity to raise incisive, difficult and sometimes uncomfortable questions that become potential game changers.When we ask such critical questions, we begin to understand the interconnected nature of things and are able to build a larger systemic view.
  • Faced with a personal setback, the first thing a professional must do is to secure his or her professional position. Your commitment to your job and performing to the best of your capabilities cannot be compromised. The key is to plan, strategize, know the trade-offs, build backups and keep people informed. Return to full-time responsibilities only when you feel you can once again give your best to your organization.

Part Six: New World Imperatives

  •  To be a true rainmaker one must rise above anonymity in every function and become a critical asset in every organization.
  • A rainmaker is invariably a good spokesperson for the organization to the outside world.
  • Rainmakers understand and stay current with their organization’s key business parameters and the issues concerning them in environment; they scout for opportunities for new business, sometimes an unusual source of supply, an alliance that expands operations to a hitherto new area, and they attract high-quality talent.
  • Rainmakers are invariably visible in “alternate spaces” – organization’s website , personal blog, YouTube, Facebook and such other spaces where people may look for you before contacting your organization.
  • Organization needs to articulate its stand on Inclusion and Gender and educate people at work across genders. The crux of the matter lies in an organization’s clearly defining what is and is not acceptable behavior.
  • Gender sensitivity cannot be just an organizational priority; it is also for every individual to observe, learn, cultivate and demonstrate. Wherever adults work, there is bound to be mutual attraction, but every professional must know where consent stops and harassment begins.
  • In an increasingly global world, we have to learn cross-cultural nuances because we deal with customers, suppliers and other collaborators who are as new to us as we are to them. A professional who understands these differences and finds ways to work with them, rather than letting them work together against the organization, will be in much demand in the new world.
  • Governance literally means compliance with the laws of the land but in spirit asks for self-regulation. Most governance issues can be avoided with a culture of education and a spirit of full disclosure. When there is the slightest possibility of a conflict of interest, prenotify the relationships.
  • We must be doing not only the right thing or staying away from the wrong, but we must also be aware of perceptions sometimes created with unintended but avoidable acts.
  • With more value getting generated by the use of knowledge, it is every professional’s responsibility to acquire a basic understanding of concepts like copyrights, patents and trademarks. And it is every professional’s responsibility not to expose an organization or a client to lawsuits that could result from negligence in this area.
  • Sustainability  is no longer a fad. Issues like potable water, waste disposal, greenhouse gases and carbon emissions can be directly linked to every profession, and more significantly to how every professional makes a living.
  • Even before people take responsibility for the larger cause, the first step is to get educated on the basics of sustainability and become aware of all subsequent individual actions.
  • Professionals in the new world will need to develop a personal  context for the phrase “doing well by doing good”. Because tomorrow’s customer will seek out those who are proactive in their practice to make the planet a better place to live in.

Part Seven: The Professional’s Professional

  • Top ten attributes of a professional:
    1. Integrity
    2. Commitment and ownership
    3. Action orientation and goal seeking
    4. Continuous learning
    5. Professional knowledge/skills
    6. Communication
    7. Planning, organizing and punctuality
    8. Quality of work
    9. A positive attitude, approachability, responsiveness
    10. Being an inspiring reference to others.
  • Tomorrow’s professional must have a beaconlike presence in a world that will ask for memorability. Because being ordinary will no longer be considered professional.
  • Top ten markers of unprofessional conduct:
    1. Missing a deadline
    2. Failing to be forthright
    3. Withholding the information
    4. Not respecting the privacy of information
    5. Not respecting “need to know”
    6. Plagiarizing
    7. Passing the Blame
    8. Overstating qualifications and experience
    9. Frequently changing jobs
    10. Not taking care of your appearance
  • Ultimately being a professional is a matter of personal choice and the values we opt to live by.
  • Your profession is a platform. It is something of a springboard; a place from which you start a journey on the road to someplace else. Your purpose, on the other hand, determines how far you may go on that journey, for whom it is undertaken and how meaningful it is.
  • Low Platform, Low Purpose Professional – Vast majority that make the world a predictable, often dependable place to live, but they leave no lasting impact. People in this quadrant do not consume resources disproportionate to the impact they make; they take from life what is minimally needed; they are not overly materialistic and do not amass wealth and fortune at other people’s cost. They have a lower carbon footprint in every sense. These are people who are driven by the sheer need to exist. Existence is the driver of their being.
  • High Platform, Low Purpose Professional – Highly qualified, highly competent but leading a self- serving life. Platform is everything and defines their existence. More likely to pursue the predictable. Genuinely believe that they are indispensable.  Do not think there could be anything more significant than professional ambition. Depend on a given organizational path for success; do not create their own path. The driver of their existence is consumption.
  • Low Platform, High Purpose Professional – People who become start-up entrepreneurs; idealistic individuals who want to make a difference to society in ways other than building a business. Face challenges – personal hardship, minimalist lifestyle, working outside an established organizational framework often makes it difficult to succeed. Do not seek instant gratification; patient with the change-making process. Driving force behind is opportunity for path making.
  • High Platform, High Purpose Professional – They see their professional qualifications, experience and accomplishments as a platform to make a difference to the world. Have power of vision. Do three things right : They create a vision community to carry people along and make them feel it is a shared vision. Then they give their entire life to cause it entails and understand that there is least scope for instant gratification. Finally, they remain steadfast even in the wake of great personal sacrifices and they do not yield to distractions. The driving force is the desire to leave a legacy.
  • There is nothing right or wrong about being in any of the above category. The only opportunity for error is to not to know which category you belong to. Education and experience give us the power to make informed choices, and we need to choose where we want to be and at the same time understand the consequences.
  • A true professional knows that through his profession he has the power to make a huge difference to the world around him; he has an uplifting purpose that takes him beyond earning a living to making a difference in life.

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Book Review: Innovation and Entrepreneurship

Authors: John Bessant and Joe Tidd

The authors who are experienced academicians have written this book to provide an accessible and highly structured introduction to innovation and entrepreneurship for students of business and management.
They have reviewed and synthesized the theory and research in these subjects where relevant  but emphasized more on the practices of innovation and entrepreneurship applied in product development, business creation, corporate and public services, emerging technologies and economies and sustainability.
The book is structured in four parts, covering twelve chapters:
I. Principles – Review of key theories and research relevant to understanding the dynamics and practice of innovation and entrepreneurship. The three chapters in this part are
Chapter 1 The innovation imperative
Chapter 2 Organizing innovation and entrepreneurship
Chapter 3 Networks and systems
II. Context – How the generic innovation and entrepreneurship model discussed in Part I needs to be adapted to different environments.
This part has the following two chapters
Chapter 4 Innovative manufacturing
Chapter 5 New product and service development
III. Practice -Application of the material from the previous two parts to explore some central themes is described in the following six chapters:
Chapter 6 Creating and sharing knowledge and intellectual property
Chapter 7 Exploiting discontinuous innovation
Chapter 8 Entrepreneurship and new ventures
Chapter 9 Social entrepreneurship and innovation
Chapter 10 Innovation for growth and sustainability
Chapter 11 Innovation, globalization and development
IV. Action – The single chapter in this section – Chapter 12 Taking the next steps -   identifies the steps necessary to make innovation and entrepreneurship happen and suggests an  action plan for translating ideas into practice.

Each chapter includes clear learning objectives, key terms, a guide to further resources and individual reflective questions and suggested group assignments. In addition to these, each chapter has four key elements:

  • Innovation in Action – contemporary case studies
  • Developing Personal Capabilities -  guide for  students  to reflect and develop skills
  • Advice for Future Managers – practical implications and advice
  • Strategic and Social Impact – broader strategic and social relevance of different types of  innovation/entrepreneurial activities

A very comprehensive text book which admirably serves the purpose for which it was written !


  • Online Resources for the book -  Case studies; Video and audio media – films and interviews;Activities to support teaching and learning;Tools to work with concepts introduced in the book.
  • Innovation Portal – for those who are involved in the teaching, learning or practice of managing innovation.

Publication Details: Published:2007; Publisher: John Wiley & Sons Ltd; Paperback: 478 pages.

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Book Review: Practices of an Agile Developer

Authors: Venkat Subramaniam & Andy Hunt

In this book the authors present 45 practices which a software developer need to follow to derive maximum benefit out of the Agile way of working.
After an introductory first chapter – Agile Software Development, which deals with the spirit and the definition of agility, the authors discuss these practices in the next seven chapters as follows.

Chapter 2: Beginning Agility – The  agile mind-set and good personal-practices which serve as a foundation for rest of the book.
Chapter 3: Feeding Agility – Ongoing background practices that aren’t part of development itself but are vitally important to the health of the team.
Chapter 4: Delivering What Users Want – Practices and techniques to keep the users involved, learn from their experience with the system, and keep the project
aligned with their real needs.
Chapter 5: Agile Feedback – Practices to get the best feedback which comes from the code itself and to get a better handle on the team’s progress and performance.
Chapter 6: Agile Coding – Some practical, proven techniques to keep code clean and
malleable and prevent it from growing into a monster.
Chapter 7: Agile Debugging – How to make the debugging process  more effective and save time on the project.
Chapter 8: Agile Collaboration – Effective practices  to help jell a team together, as well as other practices that help the team function on a day-to-day basis and grow into the future.

All the practices in the above chapters are systematically dealt with as follows.

The introduction to each practice starts with excuses/temptations for either not following or badly/carelessly following the practice. These are presented as if coming from the Devil’s mouth.  These are based on the seemingly legitimate lines of thought that the authors have heard, seen in practice, or secretly thought themselves. These are the costly shortcuts generally tried by developers with all good intentions for saving time on the project.
After a short and crisp discussion (1 or 2 pages)  of the practice, the authors dispense a key advice which they think needs to be followed. This is presented as if coming from the developer’s guardian angel.
The authors then proceed to describe what it feel like in being in a team which follows the practice. The discussion on the practice concludes with tips on how to pragmatically strike a balance by avoiding going overboard by trying to rigidly stick to the practice come what may.

The last chapter- Moving to Agility, provides  roadmaps to the Manager and the Programmer for introducing and institutionalizing the practices discussed in the book.

The book is written in a very elegant, reader friendly manner, peppered with case studies drawn from authors’  experience and garnished with ample doses of humor.

An indispensable book for every developer starting on their agile journey and a sanity check for everyone who claims to be Agile !

Book Details: Published:2006; Publisher: The Pragmatic Bookshelf ;Paperback: 200 pages.

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Book Review: Game Writing Handbook

Author: Rafael Chandler

The video game industry is booming. There are several game genres – first-person shooter, the racing game, real-time strategy, sports, flight simulation etc.  I am not a game enthusiast,  but I picked up this book on Game Writing from the library to get to know more about the process of developing games.
It turned out a real eye-opener for me. I realized that Game Writing which is  just one aspect of Game Development, has myriad complexities involved in it.
A game is not written in a linear narrative manner  like a novel or a movie script. A game writer delivers the context for an interactive entertainment experience and creates a series of documents that detail the nonlinear interactions of players with widely different playing strategies. The game writer has to create a story content that accommodates all the scenarios arising out of these strategies. Moreover the game script needs to be adapted and integrated into a complex software program through  collaboration between many game developers.

This book imparts the know-how of game writing for today’s competitive video game market. It provides hands-on techniques for designing storyline, creating characters, writing dialogue, and testing story content.  The author has clearly explained these techniques using examples from several fictional projects. He has also included his interviews with veteran game developers who share their from-the-trenches experiences, insights and advice for the aspiring game writers.

A well-written book which has resulted in my developing a better appreciation for the Game Design and Writing !

Chapter-wise Summary of the Contents

Chapter 1: Writing A Game - An overview of – the game industry, context of a game, screenwriting transition, documentation, stages of game writing.
Chapter 2: Creating the Concept – Ideas that guide the writer during the concept creation phase, including licensing, marketing, competitive analysis, publisher requirements, and gameplay.
Chapter 3: Documenting the Story – Fundamental elements of a game story; methods of story delivery used by developers and their implications on the development process; characteristics of technical writing as applicable to story design documentation.
Chapter 4: Developing the Context – Story design process, planning methods, and developer collaboration.
Chapter 5: Creating the Characters – Process of character creation; different methods used to imbue the main characters with depth and complexity in their personalities.
Chapter 6: Structuring the Narrative - Logocentric and mythocentric narrative structures and their ramifications for the working game writer.
Chapter 7: Organizing Dialogue – Way the development team interacts with the writer and active format of dialogue documentation.
Chapter 8: Creating Cinematics - Methods to achieve high quality cinematic sequences; differences between prerendered cinematics and scripted cinematics; how writers can maximize the story potential of each type of cinematics.
Chapter 9: Directing Voice Actors - Ways the writer can participate in the planning stage, manage the audition process, and contribute to the direction of voice actors.
Chapter 10: Knowing Technical Parameters - Various technical parameters that the writer must be aware of when documenting a game’s story content; level design; audio programming; NPC dialogue.
Chapter 11: Integrating Dialogue - Process of dialogue integration, including the scripting team, their schedule and tools, the necessary documentation, and the triggers that are used to structure the integration of voice cues; game localization and the preparation needed for the same.
Chapter 12: Testing Story Contents – Testing process, testing materials, story documentation, defect reporting, evaluation, revision, and the walk-through.
Chapter 13: Understanding Postproduction – Documenting the lessons learned during the production cycle and listing all story related information for the benefit of the next game’s writer.
Chapter 14: Working in the Industry - Ways to get a foothold in the game industry; list of games that have been recognized for excellence in writing.


Book Details: Published:2007; Publisher: Charles River Media ;Paperback: 316 pages.

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Book Review: Head First – Software Development

Authors:  Dan Pilone  & Russ Miles

The software development approach  described in this book  is primarily based on Agile development principles and the Scrum framework (though not explicitly mentioned as such).  It also introduces the concepts underlying technical practices like Test Driven Development (TDD) and Continuous Integration (CI) in a very elegant manner using a single case study , code snippets, illustrations and exercises. Pure Agilists may disagree with some of the points made in this book for e.g. definition of velocity , suggestion of  a separate QA team for team for testing.

Though this book did not have much to offer to me in terms of novelty of the content it gave lots of ideas to try out during my consulting/training sessions. This is due to the fact all the Head First series books such as this one, are written based on the research in cognitive science and learning theory . They aim to provide a multi-sensory learning experience using visually rich format. So this is definitely one of the better books in the market to get started on the subject.

This is the first book I have read in the popular Head First series of software development books published by O’Reilley media. One can’t help comparing it to the other similar books I have read  in “for Dummies” series.  Based on this book alone, I can say that the Head First series emerges as a clear winner.

Look forward to reading more books in the Head First series.


1. Great Software Development – Pleasing your customer : How to avoid  being a software development casualty by delivering software that is needed, on-time and on-budget.
2. Gathering Requirements - Knowing what the customer wants:  How user stories, brainstorming, and the estimation game help you to get inside your customer’s head.
3. Project Planning – Planning for success: How to work with the customer to prioritize their requirements and create an achievable development plan that you and your team can confidently execute and monitor.
4. User Stories and Tasks - Getting to the real work:  How to break your user stories into tasks, and how your task estimates help you track your project from inception to completion. How to update your board, moving tasks from in-progress, to complete, to finally completing an entire user story.
5. Good Enough Design – Getting it done with great design: How to refactor your design so that you and your team can be more productive.
6. Version Control – Defensive development: Using version control to ensure the safety and integrity of the source code in the repository.
6.5. Building Your Code – Insert tab a into slot b…: How a build tool allows you to write your own instructions for compiling and packaging the source code into deployable unit.
7. Testing and Continuous Integration – Things fall apart: How to put together a safety net to keep the build in working order and you productive.
8. Test-driven Development – Holding your code accountable: Tying together the version control, continuous integration and automated testing practices into an environment where you can feel confident about fixing bugs, refactoring, and even reimplementing parts of your system.
9. Ending an Iteration -  It’s all coming together…: How to effectively fit in user testing, refactoring , redesign, bug fixing activities towards the end of an iteration.
10. The Next Iteration -  If it ain’t broke… you still better fix it: How to prepare for the next iteration by adjusting your stories based on what the customer wants NOW, not a month ago.
11. Bugs - Squashing bugs like a pro: Confidently estimating the work it will take to fix your bugs, and apply refactoring and prefactoring to fix and avoid bugs in the future.
12. The Real World – Having a process in life: How to apply what you’ve learned to your particular project and where to go next for more learning.

Appendix 1: LeftoversThe top 5 things (we didn’t cover) : UML Class Diagrams, Sequence Diagrams, User Stories and Use Cases, System Tests vs Unit Tests, Refactoring

Appendix 2: Techniques and PrinciplesTools for the experienced software developer: Summary of all the Development Techniques and Development Principles covered in this book.


Book Details: Published:2010; Publisher: O’Reilly;Paperback: 516 pages.

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Book Review: Beautiful Teams

Editors: Andrew Stellman & Jennifer Greene

This book provides deep insights into what makes a good team tick, and what one can do to make a mediocre team better.

The editors of this book are well experienced in software development and project management and have written several books on these subjects.  They have sought to draw as many views on team dynamics from the experts they knew.

The industry experts share their  experiences,  viewpoints, inspiring and interesting stories  in form of articles and interviews. Their contributions cover a  wide spectrum of industries and areas of interest : from defense to social organizing, from academic research to video game development, from aerospace and defense to search engines, and from project managers to “boots-on-the-ground” programmers and system admins. Every contributor has something interesting, important, and, most significantly, useful to say about teams: how they work, how to build them, and how they break down.

Though  several of their ideas are conflicting they have all worked well in different situations because all projects are unique and all teams are different. This reinforces the fact that there is no One Correct Way to form and manage teams.

A must read for every Project Manager and Team Member !

Summary of Chapters

Chapter 1, Leadership, an Interview with Tim O’Reilly : Thoughts on leading teams and companies, and moving the world of software forward.
Part I, People
Chapter 2, Why Ugly Teams Win, by Scott Berkun: Experience at Microsoft, and the wabi-sabi (i.e. beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”) of ugly teams.
Chapter 3, Building Video Games, an Interview with Mark Healey: Learnings while building the hit video game LittleBigPlanet.
Chapter 4, Building the Perfect Team, by Bill DiPierre: Story of how a good manager can take a disparate group of people and turn them into a great team.
Chapter 5, What Makes Developers Tick, an Interview with Andy Lester: What motivates developers and how they can improve their relations with their teams.
Chapter 6, Inspiring People, an Interview with Keoki Andrus: How he has improved teams in companies such as Intuit, Microsoft, and Novell by understanding, inspiring, and guiding the people on them.
Chapter 7, Bringing the Music Industry into the 21st Century, by Tom Tarka: The story of the rise and fall of, an icon of the dot-com boom and bust, and the people who lived through it.
Chapter 8, Inner Source, an Interview with Auke Jilderda:  The inner source initiative brings open source practices and ideas to corporate teams, and Auke tells us how he implemented it, and how it affected the people on those teams.

Part II, Goals
Chapter 9, Creating Team Cultures, an Interview with Grady Booch: The challenges of getting teams (especially distributed teams)  to gel  and moving them  in the right direction.
Chapter 10, Putting the “I” in Failure, by Jennifer Greene: The experience of working on a great team with conflicting goals.
Chapter 11, Planning, an Interview with Mike Cohn: How understanding the context around a project means the difference between succeeding and failing.
Chapter 12, The Copyfighters Take Mordor, by Cory Doctorow: How a great team that’s motivated by social responsibility can succeed against a daunting foe.
Chapter 13, Defending the Free World, an Interview with Neil Siegel: How he motivates his software developers.
Chapter 14, Saving Lives, an Interview with Trevor Field: What motivated him to leave the cushy world of advertising and dedicate his life to delivering clean drinking water to rural schools and villages in sub-Saharan Africa.

Part III, Practices
Chapter 15, Building a Team with Collaboration and Learning, by James Grenning: His first experience with agile methods.
Chapter 16, Better Practices, an Interview with Steve McConnell: How better development practices can lead to high-performance teams.
Chapter 17, Memories of TRW’s Software Productivity Project, by Barry Boehm and Maria Penedo: Story of one of the first successful process improvements ever done, told by a pioneer of the  industry.
Chapter 18, Building Spaceships, an Interview with Peter Glück: The challenges of building software that will be shot into space at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Chapter 19, Succeeding with Requirements, by Karl E. Wiegers:  How to use software requirements to ensure success.
Chapter 20, Development at Google, an Interview with Alex Martelli: How better planning and agile practices improve life at a cutting-edge company.
Chapter 21, Teams and Tools, by Karl Fogel: How a software tool can have an enormous impact on the way a team works.
Chapter 22, Research Teams, an Interview with Michael Collins: His work on a security research project.
Chapter 23, The HADS Team, by Karl Rehmer: Challenges in writing a whole new set of tools for building Boeing 777 flight software.

Part IV, Obstacles
Chapter 24, Bad Boss, by Andrew Stellman:  How one bad manager can destroy a team.
Chapter 25, Welcome to the Process, by Ned Robinson:  How a good team can overcome even the most incredible and unforeseen challenges.
Chapter 26, Getting Past Obstacles, an Interview with Scott Ambler: How to get past some of the biggest problems that can trip up a team.
Chapter 27, Speed Versus Quality, by Johanna Rothman:  Stiff challenges a a new project manager faces when she joins her team.
Chapter 28, Tight, Isn’t It?, by Mark Denovich and Eric Renkey: How an improbably great team faced obstacle after obstacle.
Chapter 29, Inside and Outside the Box, by Patricia Ensworth: How a team that’s faced with poor management, terrible facilities, and interpersonal problems managed to stay together despite it all.
Chapter 30, Compiling the Voice of a Team, by Andy Oram:  How one developer can take on management when the facts are in his favor.

Part V, Music
Chapter 31, Producing Music, an Interview with Tony Visconti: Shows  that producing records and building software have a lot in common.


Book Details: Published:2009; Publisher: O’Reilly;Paperback: 510 pages.

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