My Professional Journey

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Sharing Insights from my Professional life , where I have been a Sales Engineer, A Health Professional and now , a Project Management Professional. These blogs encompass my observations or experiences. They may be regarding the Projects that I have led or been a part of or something close to our daily lives like Mindfulness and health which may affect our productivity as Project Managers.

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Strength Training for your mental muscles

Talk in terms of the other person's interests

Never drop the ball on Information Security

The Dreaded Pyramid

Harvest Home Grown Talent

Strength Training for your mental muscles

Categories: Personal growth

Learning Fitness at the fitness academy has taught me that repeating the same exercises over and over again with the same weights and the same number of repetitions, every session for months together is not going to yield  noticeable improvements in hypertrophy or endurance . If anything, over-time your performance is going to plateau.

Yes , any exercise is good for the health after about 2 - 3 months you will notice that the monotony becomes boring and exhausting . Good Personal trainers, including the one I train with , understand this very well and incorporate techniques to avoid this monotony, into their training schedules.

Thus, I look forward to every single training session with great enthusiasm because,  I am faced with the challenge and excitement to provide the muscles of my body with an unknown stimulus . I can almost always expect that one of the following will happen:-

  • The  trainer will change the exercises
  •  He will increase or decrease the sets and reps 
  • The weights will be increased
  • Compound exercises involving different muscle groups will be incorporated
  • Innovative super-sets will be created 

 I know that the possibilities for stimulating the muscles for the rest of my body are endless. But I also recognize the fact, that the all important muscle that drives my career and my life , the Brain, also needs strength training .

I have found it very easy to get anxious, bored and frustrated if I try to do the same things, the same way, every single day at work and at life. Although I should not be making drastic changes to my life style, incremental changes, as I have found have done me a world of good. These changes might have been including a new hobby or  changing my ways of doing certain things.

The brain needs exercise as much as any muscle of your body .  Time for cliche No. 1 :- "You use it , or you lose it ". It needs stimulus, strength and conditioning . It needs the influx of innovative ideas, new challenges , new knowledge , new training and new skills.

Perhaps we all  can do some  of the following to keep this fine workhorse in top shape:-

  • Learn a new skill . for example playing the piano, it may unravel your hitherto hidden musical genius.
  • Find an alternative route to your work . Or beat the traffic by going to the dance -class or the gym class on the way.
  • Learn Latin dancing. Yes we all have left feet but we all can learn if we put our mind to it.  How about, I increase the level of embarrassment for some of my friends  even further and suggest dragging your partner with you. 
  • Join a local sports club. If nothing else, kick a soccer ball with your kids.
  • Get on the social media bandwagon. no better way to keep abreast with the latest news. Twitter, Facebook, linkedin, Pinterest...take your pick. Blog, comment, post something, encourage a conversation or a debate or join a debate online. Try to get your creative juices flowing.
  • Do the Sudoku or the crossword. Great way to stimulate the brain cells.
  • Do meditation or yoga . Flush out those bad thoughts, anxieties and ill-will and stabilize and calm your mind and your heart through mental catharsis.
  • Read ! Read ! Read. anything and everything. Even if you don't like a topic read the first paragraph just to get it's essence.
  • If you are a programmer, learn a new Programming language or up-skill yourself in what you know already. 
  • If you are a techie , learn the soft skills .
  • If you are a people leader, learn the technology. 
  • Ask your manager to train you in a new skill , or if you are the boss, enroll yourself into a training course that will benefit both you and the company you work at.
  • Travel to a new destination if you can. If you can't afford international travel, try going interstate. If not interstate, go intercity . If nothing else, Just go to a new street you have never been to and say hello to a stranger.
  • Try to gain horizontal skills through performing different roles in the company that you work at. 
  • Do some charity work or work out at a soup kitchen. nothing more fulfilling than helping the needy.

I wish I could do all of the above , but doing a lot of it has helped me immensely at work and in life.

In closing  Time for cliche N0. 2 . "I will pass this way but once, let me make the most of it ...."

Posted on: April 24, 2017 01:44 AM | Permalink | Comments (1)

Talk in terms of the other person's interests

Categories: Influencing

I was on the plane back from Brisbane to Melbourne and a very Business-like gentleman was seated next to me. He took out his massive Dell Laptop computer and his book " Leading Change" by John .P . Kotter.

I myself haven't read this book just yet but when this gentleman was sitting next to me I was reading Dale Carnegie's "How to win Friends and Influence People" on my Kindle and the topic I was on at that time was "Talk in terms of the other person's interest".

Instantly I was inspired to start a conversation with this stranger. I started off with a question " So what change are you leading today?"  With a broad smile, he started to explain that he acquired a company related with the State Fire Authority and he was about to bring in  changes in the way the firemen have been working with the same business model for 25-30 years. He is going to bring about improvements in efficiency and streamline the business process therein. I listened intently to him for 15-20 minutes as he spoke. He also spoke about different kinds of books that he read that taught him about business.

So Taking a leaf out of Dale Carnegie's principle on " Talk in terms of the other people's interest",  I had listened with great attention as the other person spoke about his interests, his accomplishments and his aspirations . I had made him feel important. I had respected the fact that he was a Leader and was undertaking a highly respectable task of introducing Change in a large organization. I had also respected his knowledge and erudition when he was speaking about the books that he had read.

After sometime, he started talking to me, asking me what I was doing and what my career aspirations were. I then talked about my job and expressed my interest in reading motivational books by authors like Dale Carnegie, Norman Vincent Peale and Anthony Robbins and how these are helping me in my current career. 

Without a lot of effort in my part , I had a decent and interesting conversation with this person . And either he saw something in me that told him that I was an aspiring leader or he was intending to share his success as a leader with me. Whatever the case may be, In parting , he highly recommended three books which I am going to read next , "Good to Great - By Jim Collins", "The First 90 Days - by  Michael Watkins"  and "The Goal -  by Eli Goldratt" apart from "Leading Change".

In short, The Principle "Talk in terms of the other person's interest" really worked for me and may impart me some valuable insights about leadership when I finish with the four books mentioned above. And who knows what other life gifts will be unraveled when I keep following this and the other principles suggested by Dale Carnegie?

Posted on: April 24, 2017 01:42 AM | Permalink | Comments (4)

Never drop the ball on Information Security

So you have just started a project on introducing a new product, service or result into the organization. You are working with external vendors and internal teams to help deliver the new outcome.

And you have also asked the all important question " What are my information security requirements?" 

On any project, where you are introducing or changing information , documentation, user details, processes , design or software which are the intellectual property of the organization you work for, it's your duty as the Project Manager to make sure that you have performed the due diligence on Information Security and have evidence to prove this.

If you have the luxury of a dedicated information security manager in your organization or an external consultant that helps provide consultation and help generate such artifacts on projects then it's great ! You already have the Organizational Process Assets -templates and guidelines that you can simply send to vendors and ask them to respond as to how they will ensure adherence.

Regardless of whether the information exists within your organization or you need to find out, as a project manager what would you need to know and enforce as Information Security requirements on your project?

Vendor

  1. Do they adhere to nationally or internationally recognized security standards, for example ISO/IEC 27001?
  2. Send them a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) /Confidentiality agreement to make sure that they are not allowed to disclose any information that is your organization's Intellectual Property without prior written consent from your legal team
  3. Perform a quality audit on them. Ask them how they store information about other clients ? Do they store it in-house in electronic systems or safety vaults and are their data centers redundant in the event of disaster
  4. If dealing with software development projects, always give vendors dummy data to work with , which resembles the format of your production data (sizes, data types, Volumes)
  5. Invest in a good encryption software that can automatically churn out garbled data which you can provide to your vendor.
  6. Ask if the vendor's software or systems provide data encryption capabilities.
  7. Ask the vendors if their internal systems are protected from intrusion using firewalls and antivirus software.
  8. How are the vendors going to access your system for support or installations? Are they made aware of your security policies for accessing your systems and data centers.
  9. Does the software have audit trails ?

Internal 

  1. Is the new Product or service you are procuring capable of interfacing with internal secure systems? eg Active Directory?
  2. Is your IT Department capable of providing an additional layer of encryption?
  3. Do you have software that can help perform a vulnerability assessment on the vendor's software for things like SQL injections or Denial of Service attacks?
  4. Will the servers that you are putting the software on be running the latest operating systems ? with the latest patches?
  5. Have your end users read your information security guidelines and understand how vital and confidential the information stored in your product or service is going to be?
  6. Can you provide disaster recovery capability to the new service or system that your project is implementing?
  7. Is your backup solution robust enough and compatible with the new service or system?
  8. Have the support  persons in charge of resetting passwords or managing information within the system, been made aware and have signed off on Information security policies and guidelines?
  9. Are all internal servers fire-walled and protected using the latest supported versions of Antivirus Software?

There is always going to be an inherent risk of information security breaches but as Project Managers, by asking and find answers to the questions like the ones above,  we have done due diligence and risk mitigation.

In the end, we have done  what we are paid to do, but done it well !

 

Posted on: April 23, 2017 11:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (1)

The Dreaded Pyramid

Categories: Project Management

Picture a matrix based IT organization with a Project Management Team which relies on other functional teams to provide resources to work on Projects.

The functional teams are structured like a Pyramid and you find that the number of Levels of Management is much higher than the actual operational Staff.

You have worked with members of the bottom level of the pyramid and these are the staff that add most value to your projects. These are your Developers, your Business Analysts, your Architects and your Support Staff. 

These are sociable, talented and hard working people who know their subject matter.

You want them to work on your projects with closed eyes because you are well aware of their abilities and you get along well with them.

But you can't get access to them! 

You will have to go through four levels of Management to get access to them. That's just the beginning of the negotiation cycle.

You start at the Team Leader Level . Here , you can expect to get a variety of answers .- Resources are over-allocated, They are busy, They are starting on another project next week and are only available for a few hours.

When you look at the list of projects currently being performed by your IT Organization and perhaps, have enough insight into those projects or have been networking actively with other Project Managers to  analyse the resource usage on those projects , you find that the staff that you want on your project indeed has the capacity to do work on your project, but will just not be allocated to you for reasons that you cannot comprehend though you might have the budget to get them on your project.

You then move to the next level and try and acquire some resources and you may get a different response. Maybe they might encourage you to outsource that resource from your project budget. It's well and good. I can do that , but All I want to know that if there a capable internal resource who can provide immediate value on my project, why can't I pay for them instead?

Is the resource scheduling tool skewed? Do I need to hone my negotiation skills? Is there a magic trick that i need to conjure up?

As you move up the ladder and keep approaching higher levels of management, you reach a stage that there is almost always a project where everyone in the organization is busy working and you are left to hunt for external contractors who have no idea of how your organization works and are often not the best fit on your project.

You often wonder what value each level of Middle management does in their day to day work and how it justifies it's paycheck.

Posted on: April 21, 2017 01:48 AM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Harvest Home Grown Talent

What are some of the goals of a commercial enterprise?

  1. To continuously increase profits 
  2. To justify Return On Investment
  3. To be a market leader
  4. To produce high quality products

What are some of the goals of a non-profit organization?

  1. To produce a high-quality non- commercial product .
  2. To provide a high-quality service to the community.
  3. To be the most respected and employer of choice in the community.

How do these different kinds of organizations achieve their goals?

  1. By Improving Productivity 
  2. By Improving through-put
  3. By Increasing efficiency in labor, cost, work practices, policies.

So what ultimately are the enablers to achieving the company or organization's goals?  They are the people working in these companies and organizations. They are the workforce, human resources, employees, Volunteers - whatever you wish to call them , in short, the living flesh and blood of these bodies.

So in order to reach the end goal of profits or a quality product and respect from the community, Companies and Organizations need to harness , encourage , develop and harvest the talents of the people working for them. At the forefront of every company's strategy must be the development and acquisition of capable, empowered and talented leaders, Leaders:- 

  1.  Who think outside the square
  2. Who are enablers of positive change.
  3. Who are receptive to positive ideas or criticisms, no matter whether the ideas and criticisms come from the lowest rung of the corporate ladder or the highest.
  4. Leaders who can build and train their workforce  towards achieving the organizational objectives.

Jim Collins in his book "Good to Great" says that he had a team of researchers working and researching on eleven companies that attained meteoric growth and sustained that growth for a period of 15 years or more and at the heart of that growth was a great, aggressive, humble and innovative leadership . 

Where did these companies find these leaders? In a staggering 90-95 percent of the cases, the Leadership was home-grown. Yes, the leaders have risen through the ranks within these companies and have catapulted them to great heights. Therefore, Harvesting Home Grown Talent does pay rich dividends a lot of times.

And yes, Home Grown Talent is not only useful in developing leadership skills, but also for retaining efficient workers who keeping improving and  excelling  at what they do but may not have leadership aspirations. 

 My perception of Harvesting Home Grown Talent is a four step process :-

  1. Discover  the Home Grown Talent, irrespective of outward appearances.
  2. Nourish the Home Grown Talent
  3. Setup the Home Grown Talent for personal and organizational growth
  4. Harvest the Home Grown Talent to reap rich dividends 

I was thoroughly impressed by an Article called "What Great Managers Do" by Marcus Buckingham on the Harvard Business Review website. He tells a story of an exceptional leader, who was the Manager  of  a Walgreens store who effectively used the above four steps to lead the store to success. 

In every Walgreens store there is a concept of Reset and Revision. A Reset involves stocking an aisle with new merchandise, whereas a Revision is rearranging the items to look more appealing. The manager Michelle,  had a rather eccentric looking gentleman as a staff member who she may  have never employed, had he not expressed an interest in doing a "difficult to resource" graveyard shift at night.

She realized that this gentleman, when told to perform a generic task , would fiddle with it for hours together but when given a specific task , like re-arranging the "Christmas merchandise" , excelled at it. The manager recognized his talent and made him the "re-arranging" and "re-setting" in-charge for the whole store.

On the other hand, this staff member wasn't good at customer service. So she discovered another lady working in the "cosmetics" part of the store who was extremely good at customer service  and at the same time was very skillful in "Revision". She made the customer-service lady "Revision" in-charge of the whole store for a part of her day and customer - service for another part of the day.

In the end, the Manager got the best of both her employees and set them up for future growth within the organization and in their careers ahead.

Having such talented leaders at the helm, it's therefore no surprise that Walgreens features as a "Good to Great" company in Jim Collin's book as well.

Jim Collins also explains the principle of "Genius with a Thousand Helpers". A leader that is a genius drives a successful company,  but after they leave the company , it cannot sustain because the "helpers" haven't been empowered or imparted the "elixir of success" to carry the company forward after their departure. Contrast this to a "Great" company where the Leader assembles a team of superior executives during their tenure,  with effective succession planning to carry on their Legacy and their good work.

In my experience, Harvesting Home Grown Talent has several advantages:-

  • The person has in-depth knowledge of the Business Process of the company and can play a pivotal role in introducing efficiency.
  • The person has valuable insights from what went wrong in previous projects and can provide inputs into planning the next one more efficiently.
  • The person is well trained and experienced in what they do and are valuable Subject Matter Experts in projects affecting or using their area of work.
  • Over-time managers can discover transferable and hidden skills in the employees that can benefit other parts of the organization or business.

Harvesting Home Grown Talent also requires the following :-

  1. Demonstration of Initiative and Leadership skills by the employee.
  2. Eagerness  shown by the employee to progress vertically or horizontally within the organization.
  3. The alignment of the employee's knowledge and skills to the Organizational Vision.
  4. A workplace champion or protege (can be your manager or a person who is empowered to bring an organizational change) who recognizes the talent and encourages it .

 Bill Gates identified the first three qualities above in Satya Nadella and by his virtue of possessing the fourth quality above and being intimately aware of Satya's work , determined that there was no better successor to him than Satya.

Has Harvesting Home Grown Talent setup Microsoft for success? Only time will tell but the respect shown and the opportunity given is commendable nevertheless . 

 

 (image courtesy :- greeningofgavin.com)

Posted on: January 23, 2017 05:56 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)
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