Sunday Salon Saga

• It’s a once in a month ritual for me to take my two son’s out for hair dressing. There are couple of decent salons in my immediate neighborhood which I have been a regular. For whatever reasons my son’s don’t prefer them and are very specific to go to a chain salon that’s couple of kilometers away from my home. I have tried to persuade and influence them to go to one of the neighborhood salons as they are at walkable distance, no appointments required and guys there do a decent job to my liking. However, my sons have been insisting on the little far away chain salon and I came to know the reasons later for their liking as good ambiance, no waiting time (i.e as per appointment), cleanliness and the hair dresser is more talkative and kids-friendly.
• While my elder’s son was at the chair and undergoing his hairdressing, I noticed a gentleman in the next chair who appeared to be more interested in his conversation with the hair dresser(let’s call him Appu) than the hair dressing itself. He was very chatty and both of them were discussing about the family, his recent Bombay trip and the just released cinemas. Appu seems to know what the gentleman exactly wanted including the make of the hair-dye, how the mustache should be done etc. I learned that the gentleman Is from Anna Nagar and he has travelled 12kms to this Mylapore salon so that he can have his hair dressing done by Appu.
• I realize the job done by Appu was nothing extra-ordinary but the entire experience he offered to the customer is wholesome and he gained full customer trust. Hair dressing is a commodity business and each street in Indian cities has couple of salons. So, How do you differentiate in a commodity business?. Below are Key lessons from Appu:

  • Know your customer
     Appu knew his customer requirements and likings very well. He seemed to genuinely care for the customer, went beyond the business and established chord with the customer
  • Engage with your customer and offer overall customer experience
     It’s not just about the hair cut but about the overall experience and customer intimacy. Customer is willing to pay more for a good experience for a commodity service

I was telling my son’s that the Rs 50 tip that Appu got from the gentleman was an over-tip but my son’s disagreed. So what’s your take on this?

Quick Tips On Improving CSAT

Customer Satisfaction is the one of the most vital parameters that every project manager tracks and strives to keep it in good health. However, as a project manager how do you keep the pulse of the customer?. How do you know what customer likes and dislikes?. One way is to depend on the Project level CSAT and the Account level CSAT scores and feedback. However, these are lagging indicators and sometimes in may be too late to act. So, how do you keep the customer pulse on a dynamic and proactive basis? Below is couple of suggestions:
• Stay connected to the ground – Stay grounded and ensure your team interaction levels are high and internal review rhythms are followed. More often you will hear the issues internally and by promptly addressing it you can avoid customer escalations.
• Rely on multiple channels and informal approach – Don’t just rely on formal meetings to get all the feedback. Often the informal chats and indirect stakeholders can give you the revealing insights that you can leverage on.
• Mine Escalations – Quality and quantity of the escalations are an important parameter that every PM should have an eye on. Though this is a lagging indicator, look for patterns in escalations and address the root cause. E.g. Do you see a pattern in the escalations that’s related to basic delivery process? Then you need to strengthen your processes.
• Gauge Interaction/engagement levels – Interaction levels and engagement depth are key factors that determine customer satisfaction and interest levels. Are you invited for important meetings or proposals?. Is your opinion respected and counts?. Are you informed or consulted on important decisions? Gauge where you are in the customer decision making cycle and try to place yourself in the upstream.
• Leverage 4 quadrant framework – I suggest to use the below 4 quadrant framework to keep track of the positive (frills, delight) and negative parameters (annoy, disgust) on a monthly basis. The below diagram depicts CSAT in 4 quadrant framework for airline industry which can be easily adopted for you project needs as well. Actively work on eliminating or minimizing the annoying and disgusting factors and maximizing the frill and delight factors.

CSAT 4 quadrant

Fail Quick; Fail Cheap

R&D and Innovation is a high risk, time consuming, high resource consuming and multi-iterative process. A promising new product or a service can fail at any stage during the innovation process – at concept level, at prototype level, at initial controlled launch level or at the general public launch level. The earlier that one can do the last experiment that help to make the final decisive decision of “go or no-go” will save tons of dollars, countless hours of unproductive effort and mindless hopes. The question of “Can you do the last experiment first?” is on top of every innovators mind. So the mantra in the innovation cycle is to fail quick, fail early and fail cheap.

In the project management too, managers can leverage this philosophy of “fail quick; fail early; fail cheap” approach. It is preferred and advisable to uncover the risks, issues, constraints, roadblocks, dependencies, feasibility in the early stage of the project – rather than at the later stage. A risk identified at planning stage will have low impact on the project parameters rather than identifying the risks during execution or at the implementation stage.

Got pigs in your team?

In project management the analogy of pig, chicken and roosters are used to drive home of the point regarding the commitment levels. To make hamburgers, the pig is committed(meaning they need to lose their life; In other words, Pigs skin is in the game). The chicken is involved(Meaning they can simply lay eggs and move on with their normal life). Roosters are considered unproductive and not-useful to be around.

Think pigs as your core team members; Chickens as your non-core members but useful and productive; Roosters as your team members who are GFN(Good for nothing). It’s important you have the right proportion of the pigs and chicken in your team so that you can deliver the hamburger(i.e. IT services).

So, now do you have the mental map of your team? Tell me how many pigs and chickens you see?. BTW, I believe you must have got rid of those roosters long back.

Pat the team for bad news

The project manager has only two choices – to hear the bad news from customer or from the internal team. It’s always better to hear the bad news internally rather than from customers. Too often, associates are reluctant to raise bad news(risks, issues, constraints etc) for various reasons – due to a perception that it may poorly reflect on them, it may offend someone, personal reluctance to share bad news and cultural issues among others. But, if your team is not raising these issues upfront you will NOT have a chance to proactively address them. If you hear the bad news from the customer first, what this means is you are NOT on top of things, the team is not transparent and not working as a cohesive unit. This indicates the breakdown of the governance. And if this happens couple of times repeatedly the customer will read it as a trend and will naturally doubt the capability of the project manager, the team and the organization’s governance maturity.

As a project manager, have you created a conducive team culture wherein people are forthcoming with bad news?. Are you regularly discussing, updating and tracking the risks/issues with your team? Is your team trained and expected to proactively raising the risks, issues and constraints upfront with you?

Always prefer internal escalations over external escalations. So, the next time your team raises a bad news please encourage them and discuss the same with them. May be buy them a drink or two.

Sitting on cash pile

Indian IT service provides are sitting on a huge cash pile – billions of dollars worth. Infosys cash reserve stands around $3.8b, TCS reserve stands around $1.6b and Wipro cash stands around $1.3b.

While the liquidity is a good thing to support the working capital need, as a contingency and as a cushion to wade through rough patches of the business cycle, too much unused liquidity is unproductive. Equity share holders do not invest in the company to keep the cash in money market instruments and bank deposits on long term basis. Equity stakeholders expect the company to efficiently use the cash so as to enhance the ROE/ROCE. If the company can’t use the cash efficiently, it is prudent to return the cash to investors as dividends.

Does the large cash pile reflect risk averse attitude of the Indian IT service providers? Or does it represent lack of innovation DNA? My take is it is a combination of both. Why can’t the cash be productively deployed for R&D and new product/solutions development?

Most of the Indian IT vendors prefer “string of pearls” approach and have acquired smaller companies in the last few years. Big acquisitions and big bang M&A are a no-no (expect for one or two rare instances like iGate acquiring Patni).

Long years have passed by with little action in this front by Indian IT companies. The window is closing – fast. I hope this wouldn’t turn into mere pipedream. I wish some increased traction happens in this front within a year or two.

Cloud is bulls**t

You may find the perspective from Vineet Nayar, CEO, HCL Technologies interesting and different from hundreds of other cloud-glorifying interviews:

Cloud is bulls**t


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