Book Review: Business Genius

Author: Peter Fisk

As business professionals most of the times we endlessly focus on getting , analyzing and reporting data. We rarely rely on our own intuition, insights and imagination. According to the author Peter Fisk, a highly experienced business strategist and entrepreneur, this information centric approach  alone will not lead you to competitive advantage, innovation and growth. We need to get out of the mundane way of doing business and be more human, thoughtful and imaginative. We need to combine intelligence and imagination (the Yin and the Yang) in a synergistic manner to gain new insights, generate unusual ideas and achieve extraordinary results.
Genius = Intelligence + Imagination = Extraordinary Results
This is what this book Business Genius is all about. The four yin-yang fusions that together deliver a more inspired business are first explored. Then the author discusses how to apply these fusions to the essential disciplines  of strategy and innovation, customers and propositions, people and change that are needed to deliver sustained, profitable growth and extraordinary results.

The four  fusions  discussed in four parts of this book are:

1. Right Brain and Left Brain – Taking a more thoughtful, creative and holistic approach towards  challenges. Embracing new ideas rather than being a slave to numbers. Freeing the creative side to focus on imagination on what matters most.
Right Brain + Left Brain = Holistic Thinking

2. Radical Ideas and Practical Action – Taking a more thoughtful, bolder approach to business challenges. Making the best ideas happen without compromise. Making every action count, ensuring that radical ideas deliver more significant impact.
Radical Ideas + Practical Action = Dramatic Impact

3. Future Back and Now Forward – Starting from possibilities, unlimited by the rules and conventions, or existing capabilities. Seizing and shaping the best market opportunities before others. Creating tomorrow whilst also delivering today.
Future Back + Now Forward = Enlightened Innovation

4. Outside In and Inside Out – Defining strategy based on the best markets, customer needs and competitive difference, rather than what you have always done, or think you should do. Doing business on customer’s terms rather than your own.
Outside In + Inside Out = Engaged Customers

There are 36 case studies in this book to illustrate the above fusions in actions. The notable ones among them are:

Apple – transforming markets with iPods and iPhones; FC Barcelona – capturing the sporting passion of the Catalans; Disney – connecting digital and physical worlds together; FedEx- aligning the organisation to deliver every time; Ferrari- creatively building a new high-speed business ; GE – “ecomagination” transforms a business giant; Google – new ways to work and have a great lifestyle too; 3M – creative disruption at the innovation company; Marks & Spencer – bringing a retailing giant back from the dead; Nike – constantly transforming markets in your own vision; Proctor & Gamble – real leadership that transformed a market leader; Zara- Spanish fashion that is always a step ahead.

A very handy and information packed reference book which every business professional should read !


Book Details: Published:2008, Publisher: Capstone Publishing Ltd., Hardcover: 360 pages.

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Book Review: NLP for Rookies

Authors: Becky Mallery and Katherine Russell

NLP  (Neuro Linguistic Programming) is a method for understanding and influencing the human mind. NLP can be a very useful tool for getting buy-in for one’s ideas and for ensuring desired actions from the people one interacts with.
This introductory level NLP book discusses:

  • How our mind is structured; how we process thought, create our habits and perceive the world around us; how to look upon life in a way that unlocks our choices and gains us access to the power of our own creativity.
  • The importance of having goals and how to map our way towards attaining them.
  • How the brain processes and interprets surrounding information through the various senses: auditory, kinaesthetic,visual, gustatory and olfactory (or hearing, touch, sight, taste and smell).
  • The importance of rapport building and the strategies for creating it.
  • The motivational elements of NLP; insight into our own belief structure, its limitations and its infinite potential; how and why our beliefs play a major part in our success and our failures; exercises necessary to begin changing this.
  • The metaprogram – how we sort, chunk, relate and respond to our experiences.
  • How to use the meta model to spot our own and other’s limitations and explore different ways of approaching situations, in turn opening up more choices and options for us.
  • How to manipulate and utilize the influential effects of language, creating words that will inspire, influence and create impact upon any targeted audience.
  • How vague language can produce influential effects upon its listeners, creating deeper levels of rapport and communication.
  • How to influence and recognize our internal states; how to access the tools required to influence and direct not only our own behavior but that of others as well.

The book is well structured, well-designed and written in a simple easy to understand language.  In each chapter the introductory section effectively sets the context. The keypoints made in the chapter are highlighted as “Rookie Busters” as and when they occur. Some simple NLP  exercises are also suggested.

Overall a fairly good introductory book on NLP, though I suppose there will be better ones in the market. Also the claim “From Rookie to Expert in a Week” on the cover of the book is undoubtedly a tall one in my opinion. Human mind is very complex . People have spent their entire lives in understanding it. A week is definitely not sufficient to become an NLP expert !

Nevertheless have a quick browse through this book if you want the bare minimum facts about NLP.

Book Details: Published:2009, Publisher: Marshall Cavendish Ltd., Paperback: 192 pages.

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Book Review: e-Retailing

Authors: Charles Dennis, Tino Fenech and Bill Merrilees

e-retailing has transformed the market place over the last decade and a half.  This book explains the fundamentals of e-retailing and  provides the readers a basic  guide to the implementation and operation of a successful e-retailing business.  It discusses the following key issues and success factors of e-retailing :

  • The mix of tools and techniques that e-retailers can use to provide value for customers.
  • Integrating e-retailing into an organization.
  • Understanding the e-consumers and communicating with them.
  • Satisfying consumers’ information needs to increase sales.
  • Designing an e-store that is easy and enjoyable to navigate.
  • Encouraging the loyalty of an e-shopper.
  • Satisfying the consumers’ needs and wants for good service in a better manner.
  • Developing e-retail brands and integrating them with high street brands.
  • Benefits and problems for e-retailers of ‘locating’ under a single ‘roof’ or e-mall.
  • Assessing the suitability of products for e-retailing.
  • Problems and opportunities of retailing via mobile communication devices.

Written in a very well structured and easy to understand style this book contains several well researched real life case studies.  These case studies include – Amazon, eBay, McDonald’s, Nike, Nokia and Tesco.

The chapters which discusses the latest trends and future developments in e-retailing are outdated since this book was first published in 2004. There seems to be no updated edition of this book available. However apart from this limitation this book serves as a very good introduction to e-retailing business.

Link: Author’s Blog

Book Details: Published:2004, Publisher: Routledge, Paperback: 320 pages.
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Book Review: Coaching Agile Teams

Author: Lyssa Adkins

Coaching agile teams is a challenging task. It means going beyond establishing and maintaining basic agile processes. The ultimate goal of an Agile coach should be to enable creation of a high-performing, self-sustaining, continuously improving and innovating team.
Lyssa Adkins, a well known agile coach, presents her approach towards this goal through this book.

The book has three parts spanning thirteen chapters. The main areas covered in these parts are as follows:
Part I – It Starts with You: Who is an agile coach and what are the inherent qualities  of an successful agile coach. Foundations that allow a high performance team to emerge and put in agile team context. How to develop self-awareness, recover from command-and-control-ism and discover practices that help you cultivate presence. The leadership style framework that helps coaches know which style to use as the team they coach evolves (and devolves).
Part II – Helping the Team Get More for Themselves: Techniques for mentoring, facilitating, teaching that will help the team in collaborating to solve problems and navigate through any conflicts they may have.
Part III – Getting More for Yourself: Common failure and success modes in agile coaching; List of skills, mind-sets, tools and techniques to be acquired in the agile coach journey. Stories of other coaches’ journey.

Part I,  has been written with all sincerity and good intentions to help ScrumMasters and project managers in transition to become a great agile coach.  But it is rather abstract and philosophical. For the techniques mentioned in this part to be effective it is very essential that the team being coached fully understand “what coaching really means “.  Though a team may say that they need an agile coach, most of the  times they may be really looking for a consultant who can provide solutions fast rather than a coach who takes time and subtly helps them  to arrive at solutions . With such teams  some of the approaches discussed in this part may backfire and the coach may be perceived as a   philosopher asking  too many questions and wasting everyone’s time.  So setting the right expectations at the outset is very essential for the coaching to succeed. One cannot coach someone who does not want to be coached.
The chapters in Part II exposes the readers to a variety of techniques to coach by wearing different hats – i.e. of a mentor, facilitator, teacher, problem solver, conflict navigator and collaboration conductor – for different situations. They form the most useful and perhaps the best part of the book.
Part III is more or less a summary of the contents of the first two parts. The plus point of this part is the chapter where stories of six different agile coaches (including the author) are told in their own words.  While their backgrounds, experiences, and view points differ they all say that agile coaching answers their call for a humane way of working that delivers the tangible results that businesses demand.

This book while quite an useful addition to the agile coach’s library  is  probably not the best choice as a first book to read on agile coaching. I would rather recommend  the book “Agile Coaching” by Rachel Davies and Liz Sedley since it is more practical, pragmatic and more suited for teams who are in the initial stages of agile journey.


Book Details: Published:2010, Publisher: Pearson, Paperback: 344 pages.

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Book Review: The Lean Startup

Startups operate in an uncertain and dynamically changing environment. Most of them fail. This is because the entrepreneurs  initiate and manage them either in a conventional (rigorous and time consuming upfront market research, planning, strategizing) manner or  in an adhoc “Just Do It !” manner. Neither of these extremes work.

To improve the success rate of startups, Eric Ries , the author of this book came out with a new approach called the Lean Startup . This approach is based on the philosophy of  lean manufacturing, design thinking, customer development, and agile development.
In this book, Ries introduces the concepts of the Lean Startup and provides a framework for the entrepreneurs to  successfully build and manage startups  and launch new products or services through continuous innovation.
Ries defines a startup as a “human institution designed to create new products and services under conditions of extreme uncertainty”.
The Lean Startup method rests on the following five principles:
1. Entrepreneurs are everywhere. The concept of entrepreneurship includes anyone who works within a startup.
2. Entrepreneurship is management. A startup requires a new kind of management specifically geared to its context of extreme uncertainty.
3. Validated learning.  Startups exist to learn how to build a sustainable business. This learning can be validated scientifically by running frequent experiments that allow entrepreneurs to test each element of their vision.
4. Build-Measure-Learn. The fundamental activity of a startup is to turn ideas into products, measure how customers respond, and then learn whether to pivot (change course) or persevere. All successful startup processes should be geared to accelerate this feedback loop.
5. Innovation accounting. To improve entrepreneurial outcomes  hold the innovators accountable. We need to focus on  measuring progress ,  setting up milestones, and prioritizing work for innovation efforts. This requires a new kind of accounting designed for startups—and the people who hold them accountable.

This book is organized in three parts:
Part I Vision:  Presents a business case for a new discipline of entrepreneurial management. Identifies who is an entrepreneur, defines a startup, and explains validated learning as a new way to gauge a startup’s progress.
Part II Steer:  Deep dives into the Lean Startup method by walking through one cycle of the core Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop. Talks about making  leap-of-faith assumptions and explains how to build a minimum viable product and rigorously test these assumptions. Introduces  a new accounting system for evaluating a startup’s progress and also a method for deciding whether to pivot (changing course) or persevere.
Part III Accelerate: Explores  techniques that enable Lean Startups to speed through the Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop as quickly as possible, even as they scale.

The case studies in this book, several of them based on author’s personal experience as an entrepreneur and a consultant, bring out the nuances of the Lean Startup method very clearly.  However most of the  case studies  are related to  the IT.
The conversational  story-telling style of the author though somewhat repetitive in content makes this book an  interesting and easy read.

A very insightful and useful book by an entrepreneur for the entrepreneurs !


Book Details: Author: Eric Ries, Published:2011, Publisher: Crown Business , Paperback: 284 pages.
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News Update: “Exploring Agile” – An Awareness Workshop

Conducted a half-a-day awareness workshop ” Exploring Agile” on May 15 2012  for the management team of Triumph India, one of Asia’s leading technical communications companies based in Bangalore. Triumph India provides documentation services that encompass the spectrum of content creation, maintenance and publishing.

Workshop Objective:
To introduce the concepts of Agile and facilitate discussion on adopting Agile.

Workshop Agenda:

  • What is Agile ?
  • Driving Factors for Agile Adoption
  • Agile Manifesto, Principles Practices – An Overview
  • Agile Frameworks
  • Enablers and Impediments in Adopting Agile.
  • Conclusions

The workshop received very good feedback from the participants.

Please contact me for details if you are interested in organizing this workshop in your company.

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Book Review : Leaving Microsoft to Change the World

Social entrepreneurship is a business oriented approach towards building and running an  organization devoted to a social cause.  Best practices of the business world like reporting of results, measuring the return on investments, minimizing the overheads and waste, and continuous improvement of social development programs are applied in such setups. “Room to Read” is one such  global social entrepreneurship undertaking founded by John Wood who was a Marketing Director in Microsoft.

Room to Read’s mission is to provide opportunity for under-privileged children to gain the gift of education.
Till date (May 2012)  Room to Read  has helped build over 1500 schools and 13,000 libraries and benefited about 6 million children of Third World countries like Nepal, India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Laos, Tanzania, Zambia, South Africa and Tanzania.

This  book is an  inspiring and fascinating saga of Room to Read. It has a great lessons on fund raising, organizational design and management of any social entrepreneurship setup.

A must read for  all entrepreneurs !

Key takeaways from this book:

  •  Don’t hesitate to ask – Most people in the nonprofit world hate to ask others for money. They need to get past this barrier, quickly or their organization will suffer.
  •  5 Core principles kept in mind  by the author  while  meeting with prospective donors:
    1. Play up the fact that the donors, who would have been helped in their own life by education, now have the opportunity to give that same gift back to hundreds of children in the developing world.
    2. Show the donors a direct connection between what they give and what gets done as a result.
    3. Keep the overhead for running  Room to Read low, so donors will know that 90 percent on the dollars goes to the projects, not to administrative and fund-raising expenses.
    4. Passion sells. There is not enough of it in the world, so when people meet a passionate individual, that person really stands out.
    5. People are looking for more meaning in their lives. Funding education provides a great feeling that you have helped to change the world for better.
  • Hope and Optimism, Not Doom and Gloom – Guilt should not be used as a marketing tool. This is also in the financial interest of the charity because potential donors want hope and optimism in their lives. They want to see solutions. If we accost them with images of a poor person, they are likely to be sad, but may not take action. If you instead present a photo of a kid from the inner city in his graduation cap and gown then people are more likely to share in that optimism by donating to the cause.
  • Think Big from Day One – There is a saying at Microsoft – “Go big or go home” – and this lies at the heart of author’s advice to anyone who wants to create change. If a cause is worth devoting your time to, you owe it to yourself – and those you will serve – to think in a big way. Thinking big can be self-fulfilling prophecy, because bold goals will attract bold people.
  • Every entrepreneur needs a strong second-in-command.
  •  Lessons learned at Microsoft that author applied in Room to Read :
    • Intense Focus on Results – Rather than talking about what we are going to do, talk about what we have done.
    • You cannot attack a person, but you can attack an idea.
    •  Be data-driven. Passionately study every facet of your operations to such a degree that related facts and figures are seared into your brian.
    • Be loyal to those who work for you
  • True change requires mass participation, because one person writing a large check is never enough. Rely more on small contributions from large number of people rather than a few big donations from a small number of  donors.
  • True entrepreneurs simply take the leap. They are not afraid to declare to the world that they are going to fill a market gap or offer a new product or service, even if they are not yet entirely sure how they are going to do so.


Book Details: Author: John Wood , Published:2008, Publisher: Collins , Paperback: 284 pages.
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Book Review: The Bid Manager’s Handbook

Bidding for a business is extremely complex, challenging and time consuming task. It has to be done in a highly competitive, time-boxed and fixed budget  environment. Unless the bidding team dynamics, the bidding process and the proposal contents are managed in a holistic and  systematic manner, the chances of procuring the business will be rather dim. This book  provides the know-how to increase the probability of winning a bid. It is very relevant to medium and large bids which involves several  job functions, departments and even different companies.

As per the author David Nickson,  the primary goal of this book is to enable the reader to make best use of the time available and work effectively to produce a high-quality bid with the smallest amount of hassle.

The book is organized into three main parts

1. Bid Management – This covers all the different tasks and activities which a Bid Manager has to perform or has to be accountable for.  The chapters in this part deal with-  Bid Manager’s roles and responsibilities and her interfaces with other roles in the organization; methods and approaches for running the bids in a quick and adaptable manner; risk management; administration and logistics and bid planning.

2. Writing and Editorial – Editorial, layout design and wordsmithing skills needed for anyone who is involved in writing the proposals are discussed in this part. This will enable the reader to get a good overall idea of what goes into making a well written bid that is easy to read and understand.

3. Personal Skills – This part provides an overview of  “soft” skills like communication, team building, negotiation and selling which a Bid Manager should possess or should acquire through training and practice over a period of time.

Each chapter in this book has hints, tips, checklists and real life case studies to illustrate the points made in the chapter.

The book is well written and deals effectively with all the three magic ingredients of a successful Bid initiative – People, Practices and Content. It enables the reader to make sure they know – what needs to be done, how to present the information effectively to the prospective client and how to identify the skills needed for bidding.

A must read for anyone who has to write, manage or contribute to a bid for a new or repeat business !

Book Details: Author – David Nickson ; Hardcover  – 208 pages; Published – 2003; Publisher – Gower Publishing Limited.

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News Update: 2-day Scrum Workshop for Cognizant

Conducted a 2-day Workshop on Introduction to Scrum and Agile Methodologies in Pune for Cognizant Technology Solutions on February 28th and 29th. The participants were  professionals from the Delivery Assurance Group. The workshop was customized to their requirements and included topics like Facilitating and Auditing Agile Projects, Agile Metrics and Tools, Agile and CMMI etc. This was second such workshop I conducted for Cognizant. I had conducted the first one at Chennai in November 2011. Both the workshops have received very good feedback from the participants.



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Book Review: Test-Driven Development – A Practical Guide

“Failures are the stepping stones to success”. This is very much true of how  Test-driven Development (TDD), an Agile software engineering practice works. Unlike the conventional software development where the programmer writes the code and then tests it out, TDD happens in reverse. It is all about – first writing a test code which will invariably fail since there is no functionality code written yet; then writing just enough functionality code to make the test pass; followed by refactoring that code; and then writing the next test and then the functionality code and  so on till sufficient test cases are created and they all pass when tested with the functionality code after their initial failure.

This book explores TDD through practical hand-on examples and a real project.

It is divided into four parts:

Part I: Background starts with an introductory chapter on TDD followed by chapters on  Refactoring and Programming by Intention.
Refactoring is the process of improving the internal structure of the code without changing its external behavior. This goes hand-in-hand with TDD in order to ensure a clean , efficient and maintainable code. Refactoring refines the kludges (quick-and-dirty solutions) like duplication, hard coding etc., introduced during the process of  doing the simplest thing possible to make the test pass.
The main goal of Programming by Intention is to make the code as understandable and intent-revealing to its readers. This can be achieved through appropriate naming of classes, variables , methods etc. and using the simplest possible algorithm while programming.

Part II:  Tools and Techniques  first introduces JUnit, the defacto standard Java TDD framework through a tutorial and then explores some of the standard and nonstandard extensions to JUnit. Tools that support the use of JUnit and also the ones which are completely independent of JUnit  yet work well with it are also discussed.
The three goals of TDD are – focused tests; independent tests and fast tests. These three goals are apparently conflicting. The concept of Mock Objects is introduced in to resolve this conflict.
Another challenge while using TDD is GUI development. The concluding chapter of this part explains tools and techniques to address this issue.

Part III:  A Java Project – Test-Driven End to End :  Justifying the title of the book , this part works through a TDD in the context of a real project -  development of an application to keep a track of movies which a user may want to see. First the project is defined in terms of an overall vision ,  a set of 10 user stories and a set of 37 tasks into which these stories have been decomposed . Then each of the following chapters demonstrates TDD by  providing an annotated walk through of the  real code written to test the completion of tasks and user stories (Over 100 tests !).

Part IV xUnit Family Members : Some of the other members of the family of  programmer test framework viz; RubyUnit, SUnit, CPPUnit, PyUnit, VBUnit are briefly described in this part using one of the user stories developed discussed in the previous part.

The Appendix of this book include brief introductions and overviews of XP and Agile Modeling.

I was looking for some material on TDD which goes beyond a high level overview. Initially I tried reading “Test Driven Development by Example” by Kent Beck, the developer of this technique. However I found it a bit too informal and loosely structured to my liking and I moved on to this book which I found it to be very systematic.

Recommended for programmers familiar with Java or any  Object oriented programming  language. Not a right choice for readers without programming background.

Book Details: Authors – David Astels ; Paperback  – 592 pages; Published – 2003; Publisher – Prentice Hall.
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