Backlogged Life

I have about 300 emails I wanted to read from the past 2 months. I have about 500 links I want to check. I have about 3 books I need to finish. I have about 7 chores which need my help. I have work to do this weekend. I have about 4 friends I need to get in touch with. I have about 3 blog posts that are in draft mode. I have about 5 places I want to visit. I haven’t been to any cool club in Hyderabad so far! I have about 3 presentations I want to finish. I have about 3 phone calls I need to make to US. I have to make 1 payment and receive 2 payments in US. I need to talk to my Lawyer. I wanted a massage like last year!

What the hell is going on with my life. Somewhere I let everything slip past my grip and all I see now is chaos.

Appreciation and Contribution

There are two video sites, I usually hangout on. One is for fun, another one is for inspiration. I am always looking for ideas, inspiration in my environment. So, for fun nothing beats Apple trailers. Other than reading and trying to keep up with the latest movie releases from slashfilm, Apple movie trailers provide me enough fun in my leisure time. Another good source of videos which actually inspire me is at TED. This has an amazing collection of talks which could only be described as the cream of cream. The Rolls Royce of conferences.

So, the other day me and my wife were talking about Antony Robbins and I remembered that he gave a talk at TED. So, we decided to watch it. Now a thing about Tony Robbins. I first heard of him in 1999. I have never read any of his books but had him on the back burner that one day I will pick up one of his books. If you are a movie buff, you would recall that he did make an appearance in ‘Shallow Hall‘.¬† Anyhow, Tony Robbins has this amazing energy in his talk. You listen to him and boom your energy level goes up. So, we were watching this video on TED and he talks about two predominant emotions that we need to take care of. Those are:

  • Appreciation
  • Contribution

Appreciation and¬†ContributionWhat he said, kinda stuck with me for a while. I kept thinking about it and then I realized how these two are connected. It’s a very well known fact among people who live their lives with ‘awareness’ that ‘being grateful’, ‘appreciating’ what we have, actually manifolds what we have. It’s very true. You should try it out some time. Think about something which you have in your life. It could be anything, even including something you don’t like. Find something good about it. Close your eyes and from the bottom of your heart thank the higher force for it. See how it changes. If it’s a problem you thought of, then the problem gets solved. If it’s a possesion you thought about then what you have will increase magically.

But that’s only the first part of the lesson. The most important aspect which most people miss is – contribution. We become grateful for what we have, but we stop at that. We stagnate. That kinda rots the system. So, to solve this we need to start contributing. So, what ever you are thankful for, try thinking of a way of contributing it in someway. The ideal example is ‘Money’. If you are thankful for the money you have, you can make it increase more and more by being thankful for it and also by giving it or passing it on. You see, like the picture above describes – you want to become the ‘Providence Pipe’ rather than a stinking stagnating hole. If you contribute to society, people, friends, relatives often – more and more stuff flows to you.

The whole idea is to become the owner of the pipe, not the owner of the content of the pipe which is ephemeral. As I kept thinking about it – I realized that it was so true. It reminded me of a quote which my dad is to use, “To teach is to learn twice”. Only by passing it on, by teaching (knowledge, wisdom, information) we learn more and more. Irrespective of what it is – knowledge, power, money etc – contribution creates a healthy society as well as healthy individual who is contributing.

Saying Thanks in India

Today I want to talk about some behavioral differences between East and West. I have often had trouble with my friends and some relatives about saying – “Thanks”. You see whenever someone does something for me and I automatically say – “Thanks” and all my Indian friends get mad at me. It was very surprising to me. They say, between friends there are no ‘Thank You’ and ‘Please’. I don’t know which Bollywood movie propagated it, but it really has sunken into a lot of people here.

So, this got me thinking. Was I like this in 1999? Did I get mad at people just because they were saying Thanks to me? I don’t recollect very well, but I could say that I was kinda adamant and believed in no Thanks and no Please attitude. So what changed? My stay in US? Or may be I just forgot that Bollywood movie? Upon thinking I could come to only one logical answer.

In his very interesting book – “The Five Love Languages“, Gary Chapman explains how we humans have 5 ways of expressing love.

  1. Words of Affirmations
  2. Quality Time
  3. Receiving Gifts
  4. Acts of Service
  5. Physical Touch

When I think about it, usually in the west – the way people express love to each other ‘chiefly’ is – ‘Words of Affirmation’, ‘Quality Time’, ‘Physical Touch’. So, when people show love to you this way in West, you usually reciprocate in the similar fashion. Anything else like – ‘Receiving Gifts’, ‘Acts of Service’ are not very much treated as a way of showing Love – hence people usually say “Thanks” when they come across something like that. Whereas in India, it’s the other way around. People are not very vocal about expressing their love. They literally don’t touch (Who would want to, in this hot and sweaty India!). The concept of Quality time is no where nearby – as the only quality time any Indian can think of is spending time with TV. So, we Indians chiefly express love in the remaining 2 ways – ‘Gifts’ & ‘Acts of Service’.

So when my Uncle buys me an expensive watch for me, he is basically telling me that he loves me. When my mom cooks an extravagant Biryani for me, she is showing how much she loves me and she is happy the most when I eat a lot of it. So, when I say Thanks to these acts, both my Uncle and my Mom get pissed off. Our extreme opposite ways of showing love really gets people confused. Before I understood this, it was such a painful thing for me. I would dread to say Thank you to my friends and relatives.

Now the puzzle is solved for me. Phew. At least, thats what I think the reason for the behavior is.

Project Management Blues

“What are you thinking?”, asked Sangita.

It was the 3rd time that she caught me looking into oblivion and thinking. I wanted to lie but couldn’t. I said, very reluctantly as I did the earlier 2 times – “I am thinking about my project”. I kinda felt ashamed that I was using our quality time together in worrying about my project. I have had a shocking truth revealed to me once I joined my new job here in India.

Project Management is a skill which is acquired.”

All projects start by getting mis-managed” (It’s sort of Catholic view of projects – All projects are basically mis-managed, it’s by praying in the church of ‘Clarity’ we set them straight)

I have seen this consistently. And in all my 8 years of experience, I have had the opportunity of working with a great project manager only once. Only once was I part of a team which witnessed “Project Nirvana”. (The person is Harjit Sabharwal) and all the rest of time, it was chaos. Irrespective of whether it was US, Singapore, Malaysia, or Hong Kong it was project management chaos everywhere. Now I am witnessing the same behavior again here in India. I think it’s epidemic.

People are very good at disciplining themselves. They can silo their skills into one direction and achieve great success but when it comes to project management they get stuck. It’s something which has bothered me a lot than my pesky little code bug. Why is it so hard to do Project Management? Why is it so hard to manage anyone other than ‘I, me and myself‘? How come only very few excel at this skill set? Here are some of my observations.

(Disclaimer: I am not a Project Manager, I don’t intend to be one yet. I love programming and love creating solutions to problems. But project management hasn’t lured me yet. I just find it fascinating that it’s been only cracked by very few so far. My wife is an Organizational trainer, so we end up talking about this kind of stuff almost everyday. What makes people tick, why are some inspired? Why do projects suck? How can one be a good leader? So, these are just my observations, my opinion)

1. It’s not about you: Every guy I have met who is managing a project has this huge ego which is actually bigger than the project. This project manager thinks that it’s all about him, it’s all about ‘his’ execution. Not once does it occur to him – it’s about the project. He is just a cog in the wheel to deliver the respective project on time. May be a shiny cog in the wheel as he is the project manager.

2. It’s not ALL about the project: Now once any successful project manager crosses the hurdle #1, he is obviously going to get stuck with the second one. Because most of us tend to think about the world in black and white. But the reality is far from there. It’s not all about the project. To finish a project you need people. You need a team. A team which will work WITH you (NOT under you – change your thinking immediately if you still think that being a project manager means you are above the team. It’s just means that you have more responsibility in the team). So, you basically have this dedicated team and this project target. The project manager’s job is to inspire the team to achieve the target and deliver it to the client. So, it’s not just all about the project.

3. The answer doesn’t lie in the processes: So people who cross the hurdles #1 & #2 are definitely going to get stuck in this one. So, a lot of project managers think that if they implement a set of successful processes then everything will be taken care of. NOPE. Processes are just tools to ease your way with the shit load of information you need to handle once you become a project manager. It’s just a tool. So, the answer doesn’t lie in processes, but what the processes give out : effective communication. The key is “effective communication”. If you achieve it, then there is no looking back. A lot of project managers I work with are very busy people and when they talk about their project – they sounds so trite and negative. A part of effective communication is also treating challenges as opportunities rather than roadblocks. If the project manager sounds enthusiastic about the project the team would too.

4. Man day Vs Calendar day: Repeat after me, there is no connection between man day and calendar day. Please repeat after me. Because a lot of project managers think so. It’s not true, if you do think so – please pull your head out of your ass. There is a great book written on it – called “The Mythical Man Month” (See below). Please go buy it and read it cover to cover. Study it. If not let me know your birthday, I would present my copy to you any day. A lot of project managers think that adding people will get the project to finish in time. It works only when you add 1 person to a team of 2. In all other cases it fails. But this logic gets applied to all the projects. Even they boast to client that – we added 3 more developers to the project to finish your shiny new application before Christmas!

5. No, you can’t reduce QA time: A lot of thinking here is usually the project manager was probably a programmer in his past life and the only thing he/she thinks important is – any guesses? ‘Progamming’! So, when hit with crunch time and when adding more people does not solve the problem all they do is to cut off the QA time for the project. It is such a sin to do so. I am always surprised how lowly they treat QA. May be it’s because they forgot that there is “Quality” in QA. May be next time we should promote our QA manager as project manager then we will have 10 days development and 50 days QA.

6. Estimation, Estimation, Estimation:Hindsight is 20/20. Everyone can ponder on the past, but it’s an uphill task for anyone to take a guess about how much time would a certain thing take to finish in future. I always find that most of the project managers have trouble with project estimation. Like how project management is a skill – I think project estimation is even a bigger skill for a Project Manager to have. I have seen a lot of people rattling off the number of days (of course man days!) just by speaking to a client. Then they backtrack once the requirements come into picture. This skill should be taught in every school and college because time estimation not only makes one a better Project Manager but also better person

7. You can say NO: A lot of Project Managers are shit scared to say no to a client. In the process of impressing the other side and getting on their good side, usually Project Managers agree to all the whims and fancies of the client and get themselves, their team and also the client in trouble. It’s not a win-win situation to agree to everything the client says. Imagine a situation where a doctor has never learned to say no. If the patient asks for more sedative drugs (for the un-informed google ‘vicodin’ or ‘sudafed’) and the doctor keeps giving it to the patient, it’s either going to kill the patient soon or the doctor is going to lose his job. Like we have prescriptions in medical world, we too should have “requirement prescriptions” in project management world. That way, for people who have not yet learned to say ‘No’, they can blame it on the prescribed requirements.

8. Release date is a requirement, not a feature: A lot of project managers I work with keep saying that in the last moment, the release date may get postponed. They blame it on the Client saying that they are asking for too many requirements so it’s ok to delay the project. Well if they keep on adding requirements and we keep on adding man days – well then it’s just not project management. Often, developers and team members hear the project manager talking out like this and they assume that they can relax and get the work done in the last stages of project (‘the urgency addiction’ – well it’s another blog post) . So this kills the spirit of the project and I have been a victim of this a lot many times.

So there, that’s what I think of Project Management. Having said that, I also think that there are couple of books which needs to be on every Project Manager’s book shelf. Again, if you see – most of these books are not at all related to projects, but humans! Are you surprised?

. First Things FirstMythical Man MonthPeoplewareLeadership and Self-DeceptionFive dysfunctions of a teamDeath by meeting

Tata Indicomm’s Customer Care Sucks

I have a 1 Mbps broadband connection at home. I shelled 3 times the regular price of the local internet provider’s connection. I make all my payments on time. I am usually gentle when things don’t work out – giving in some time for those guys to fix things. But recently I have had a terrible experience with Tata Indicomm’s Customer care.

These guys called me on August 23rd to tell me that there won’t be internet access from 25th through 27th because of Ganesh’s nimajjan. I said it was ok as it’s just for few days. But after that it’s like they forgot about me. I called the customer service, starting from 27th September through 3rd October every day twice a day. Those guys who work there are like script monkeys. They just read what they see on the screen. When asked to talk to an Supervisor, they make me wait for 30 mins and then hang up. I don’t mind the money I wasted calling their dumb ass customer service, but I lost so much time and it was such a pain in the butt.

The Supervisors would promise me that it would be fixed tomorrow, as usual. Upon asking how I can reach them tomorrow in case it didn’t get fixed – they say that there is no way I can reach a particular Supervisor. So the system is built in such a way that it protects their employees rather than serving the customers. Since the conversations are not recorded, there is no credibility as to what they say. They can basically say anything and then deny it the next day. And making people harder to reach a Supervisor or the local technician is such a stupid idea.

So, finally the local technician came yesterday and he says that it was the communication gap between the customer service and him that took him so many days to come!!! Fucking kidding me? Communication my ass gap? I wasn’t home when he came over to fix it, but I would have been pissed off pretty bad. I spoke to him on the phone and asked him to leave his phone number at my home in case I need him again. He said yes to me but instead he told my mom he has to check some cable and will be back. And he never came back. He fixed the internet connection, but sneaked his way out. What a professional! I am sure he must have had some stupid gratification by cheating me.

What the hell? Why does India’s well known internet provider has such a sorry ass customer service? It just boggles my mind. They try to save money by hiring some newbie who hasn’t any clue about anything. I am going to make the switch soon. But in India the competitors are usually in the same boat. I heard if I go with Reliance I will have trouble with billing. Phew.

Whatever it is take my advice, if you have Tata Indicomm internet service have the local technician’s cell number on your speed dial. That way you can avoid talking to some thick brained people.