Archive for the 'IT Governance' Category

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?

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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

Indian IT Industry: Time for new Sigmoid?

When will the business model of Indian IT service providers change from Labor arbitrage model to value arbitrage model?.

When will the delivery excellence be measured by the business value generated rather than number of new grads inducted into the team?

When will the innovation will be counted by the number of patents/ideas generated rather than the number of bodies ramped up?

Are Indian IT service providers too narrowly focused on Q to Q margins and not forward investing for future growth?

Isn’t the 90’s labor arbitrage business model has outlived and progressively getting less relavant?.

Isn’t it time for a new sigmoid?

Transition is a joint responsibility

Managing the transitioning of services from in-house team to the vendor (transition-out) is not the responsibility of vendor alone. IT managers need to recognize that transitioning is a joint effort and requires the capability, commitment and resolve from both parties – vendor and the client organization.

Majority of the client IT managers have “sign-the-contract-and-let-the-vendor-handle-the-rest” attitude and don’t participate enough during the transition phase. While the vendor’s expertise and past experience is important, transitioning is like a marriage – it needs joint commitment and effort from both parties. There are various hurdles and landmines during transitioning including – hostile and uncooperative incumbent team, cultural issues, poor transition methodology, use of inappropriate methods to measure the progress, lack of process, inadequate project knowledge base, unclear/ poor existing service levels among others – that need to be closely monitored and acted upon. While the vendor may have past experience of doing many transitions in the past, one must recognize that each transition is unique since there are two different parties involved and the challenges differ for each transaction.

Recognizing this fact by the managers is the first step in successful transition management.

Overly relying on sales people?

During IT sourcing process, I believe most of the project and sourcing managers of the client organizations overly rely on the sales person of service provider, on matters they have no expertise. Don’t get me wrong here. I don’t have any personal grudge against the sales guys. Far from it. I do respect their skills, experience, shrewdness and the catalystic influence they bring to the sale process. I even covertly admired some of the sales guys trendy fine wool suits, dazzling neck-ties, flashy PDA’s and flamboyancy.  

However, in many instances the sales people over-reach themselves in the guise of being proactive, play superman and make commitments in the areas they have little idea – all in the interest of pleasing the customer and  making a quick sale. For e.g. in few instances I have watched with disbelief and discomfort, when the sales guy was making promises on technical and delivery related matters without really connecting to the technical team on the ground.

As a sourcing organization, it is advisable to deal with the technical team directly on delivery related matters – including the solution, technology, design, resources and schedule. Remember you are hiring the service provider for their skills and expertise. Within the vendor organization, the respective delivery team has the required expertise and they are the ones that would eventually deliver the solution to you.  Delivery teams are engineering minded, detail-oriented and would not shoot ideas from their hips.  They are thin-skinned breeds with little ability to sweet-talk. Since the delivery team skin is in the game, they would usually strive to make pragmatic commitments after careful consideration of  requirements, constraints, past experience and risks.

As I said earlier, I do believe the sales people bring good value to the table during the sales process. No second opinion on that. Leverage them where they matter – primarily for relationship management, price related discussions, contract finalization and connecting to the right people within the service provider organization. I have no issues with relationship building courtships like fine cuisine lunch on meetings, Wimbledon’s, Grand Prix’s and luxury yacht outings either. But, be conscious when to politely nudge them away as well.

You may wonder this sounds like a plain common sense approach? Trust me, this common sense approach is not that common.

Top challenges during transition

WarningThere are several challenges while transitioning-out a service from the in-house team to the offshore IT vendor. From my experience below are the top challenges that need to be recognized and managed from the start.

  1. Boiler plate transition approach
  2. Customers need to be wary of boiler-plate transition approach presented by the IT service providers. Most of the customers demand the best outcomes within shortest transition time based on the industry benchmark. However, benchmarks can be misleading. Customer usually award the contract to the vendor quoting the lowest cost and transition time. Usually the well reputed vendors have predefined transition approaches and past transition experiences. However, due to winning pressure, most of the vendors do not fine tune the transition approach to the current context and ground realities to make it pragmatic. This leads to committing to the most optimistic and aggressive schedule and outcome.

    Every organization’s characteristic, capacity and capability is unique. As I said earlier transition is a joint responsibility and so the transition approach need to be fine tuned by considering these unique parameters.

  3. Hostile team
  4. During transition, cooperation of the incumbent team is vital in sharing the information on various facets of the project including application functionality, design, coding and process. Hostile incumbent team may not willfully cooperate in sharing the information thereby increasing the risk of the transition. Besides, there is a high chance of political and/or emotional issues cropping up which need to be managed carefully.

  5. Poor knowledge management practices
  6. Lack of documentation and knowledge management practices would increase the learning curve, complexity and length of the transition.

  7. Low process maturity
  8. If the organization has matured processes, the transition would benefit in terms of shorted duration and learning curve. However, if the process culture and maturity is at low level, it would impact the transition time and results.

  9. Soft issues
  10. Soft issues, primarily cultural and communication issues, are one of the major hurdles in efficient offshoring. These challenges are amplified and pronounced during transition process than other phases of the project and need to be managed effectively.

  11. Senior management commitment
  12. Usually most of the transition projects go through turbulent times due to the multi party involvement and the complexity. Lack of commitment from senior management means low tolerance level for risks and the probability of pulling the plug is higher. So, it is essential the senior management is appraised and their buy-in obtained in advance.

Manage the service rather than individuals

Most of the IT sourcing managers and project managers have used one or more models of outsourcing. Adding contract staff for the temporary work and/or for the special skills that is not available internally is one of the common prevalent practice. In these “staff augmentation” engagements, managers focus on getting the best skilled resources onboard and managing the individuals deliver to the project plan.

Unfortunately, in most cases the same “staff augmention management” mindset is applied to manage projects under other sourcing models as well. For e.g. where the entire project or service is outsourced to a third party vendor.

What’s wrong with this approach? You have hired the vendor for a speific service with a well defined service levels. Let the vendor manage the resources and deliver the service as per the agreed plan and service levels.

Attrition rates in IT industry are one of the highest. Especially in India, the annualized attrition rate hovers around 15% to 20%. The average longevity of an Indian IT professional is around 2 years in an organization. Given these scenarios, managers need to focus on defining service levels and making vendor deliver to the adhered service levels. Also, one needs to ensure sound knowledge management practices are institutionalized along with well defined knowledge transition approach. The trick is to foster a holistic approach to leverage on vendor’s full strength to bear on the service delivery – including resources, process, infrastructure and past experience. Focusing on resources alone is myopic and ill-served.


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© Dhandapani Ammasai, 2011. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.