Sunday, September 16, 2007

Power in a project

Recently, a colleague & a good friend of mine talked about the problems he is facing in his project, inter-team loss of credibility, poor communication, & the inability to keep the personal away from the professional. I did not really have too many words of advice for him at the time but since then, I've spent a little bit of my ghastly commute thinking on these issues. One of the problems of junior-mid level supervisors is the apparent lack of authority without any subsidizing of responsibility. Here are a few thoughts on how to handle the crisis of powerlessness.

The Project sponsor/boss: This is the person who actually has institutional power. You do not. But you need to be in his good books, prove that you're capable of handling your own team & that this frees his time up for other activities that need his attention. A good amount of confidence from your boss in you will surely influence what you mean to your team.

The power of knowledge: You're leading the team because you know more & have more experience. Make sure that this shows. Be careful so as not to discourage your team, & be extra careful not to slip into micro-managing problems that aren't supervisory. Establish your credentials & be available. Some managers detest any hands-on help, however; if you ask your team-members, they often look up to a manager who'll role up his sleeves & work with them.

The power of camaradrie: To whatever extent possible, be a friend to your team. If your team lunches together anyway, that's great. If not, do what you can to increase more social/personal interaction in your team. Remember that 'trust' is the intangible component of all delivery models. Throw a challenge to your team, & make sure you lose!

The power of humility: Often unexplored, but a manager/supervisor walking up to a team-member asking for help (& not demanding a task) is a great team-builder. This demonstrates the authority in a given matter of your team member over your own, & thus reduces his insecurity. In return, there'll be more acceptance of your say in the matters of the project.

General: If you need them to stay long hours on certain days, what will you do to make sure that they get the afternoon off when there isn't much happening? On a busy day, will you prepare the status report instead of your team member? Can you create responsibility-centers in your team so as to empower your team members? who are you growing to be you?


Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Toronto, or may be Canada in general, is spoken about easier by the way it differs from America & not so much if you try to talk about it in isolation. At least, going to Toronto after about 10 months of living in the USA, that was the way I looked at it.

My first impression upon entering Canada was that Google map directions were not so darned easy to follow anymore. And that's not really about a change to the metric system; it is about traffic pattern. Now the very fact that we were not really lost is testimony to the fact that while the patterns aren't exactly the same as in America, these aren't impossible to follow - but just that extra bit difficult in the middle of the night - with no prior knowledge of what to expect in terms of road signs & traffic patterns. I still do not know if a right turn is free as it is in Ashburn, VA - and, likely, most of the US - but I took that liberty anyway.

Secondly, I was happy to find a fine non-chain coffee shop next to the hotel we stayed at. Sure, you'll find the McDonald s & the Starbucks, but why go to Toronto & get something that you get at home. The portions were handsome without being enormous, & the breakfast menu rather delectable.

Now, Ontario is the Canada's English speaking province. So we faced no problems at all in asking directions & such, though we had to to-&-fro a bit trying to get to the metro station next day. Again, that's because traffic patterns were different.

The metro is rather straight forward & runs in a U sort of a loop through downtown Toronto. With the US dollar losing ground, we experienced that our American dollars were treated as Canadian dollars, though American currency was more valuable. If you paid American cash, you'd get Canadian change back as if you'd paid Canadian dollars. The metro station had gone to the extent of putting up a notice to this effect to stop answering any further questioning from incredulous tourists. I maintain that it was at least nice of them to accept American dollars - just as Canadian dollars are accepted (at least in toll-booths in New York coming from Canada) - & the fact is that nobody really stopped us from getting Canadian dollars before entering Canada. Bad planning, price paid.

Toronto probably is to Canada what New York is to America. However, that's really for the sake of analogy & has little practical implications. That's not to say that there is nothing really to see in Toronto. On the contrary, it has a lively theater, music & art cinema culture - which is great in itself, but in the way of architecture, museums, monuments & other such touristy attractions, Toronto is really no match. But what really is admirable, I felt at the time, is the fact that reading Toronto's history one gets a distinct sense of effort & will by the government & the locals to raise the bar on what Toronto really means. The art & culture scene is an example of the intent behind Toronto's development. It wasn't very good always, it is rather nice now - & there is a distinct element of pride involved as Toronto tries to match up with its bigger, glossier North American counterparts. And Toronto exemplifies why Canada is a 'mixing bowl' & the USA is a 'melting pot'.

Well, the rainy Saturday finally came around to lunch hour & it was at Le Papillion that we found our most memorable moments of Toronto. Of course, an entire bottle of good, lush, full-bodied red wine did help mellow even more the whole Mediterranean setting of the restaurant painted in a beautiful pastel shade of yellow & the criss-crosses of light & dark blue of the table cloth. Pâté Michelle was about the best appetizer that I've eaten in a while, & the lamb chops served in a wonderfully fragrant sauce did nothing to take away the feeling of being absolved!

Yes, we also took a boat ride on the Lake Ontario. And my perfectly planned dinner plans were all spoiled when we figured that the only place in town that served Venison, as far as my research was concerned, was a restaurant inside The Hilton & did not feature a single entrée that was less than 40 Canadian dollars. So, we had a rather nondescript Italian dinner & after missing the train once , by the way being extra-polite & giving way to others, we were all on our way back to the Hotel.

Day II was Niagara falls all over. For those of you who've not seen the horse-shoe falls, its difficult to describe the power of all that water hurling itself down in a neat semi-circle with such a force that it creates a towering mist forever, & standing at a distance on the front of the horse-shoe falls, you cannot see it's middle portion thanks to gigantic column of mist. Of course, you just have to take the 'Maid of the mist' ferry & wearing a plastic-gown over your self, sail down to right in the middle of the horse-shoe falls. And whatever notions you have of 'personal space' - especially if you're from the USA - will absolutely evaporate in the jostle for space & a good shot of the awe-inspiring falls.

I liked my time in Canada. There was hardly any interaction with Canadians; however, I seem to believe that it'd be a great place to live in if you can wrestle the long winters. It is a country of peace, & is relatively prosperous. It has incredibly picturesque up north, & has a lively & cultured ways of live in the southern provinces. And it is very easy to go there.

July 13th, 14th & 15th, 2007

Monday, September 03, 2007

Come on now

Or as they say in English, on Television, & in newspapers "Chak de!" Its everywhere; ubiquitous & refusing to go away. Cricket, football (the recent Nehru cup), hockey (the Asia cup & the Indian team's laudable performances) - there are just two words that we have to talk about all of this. Wikipedia has an entry on the film "Chak de, India" & the literal translation of this phrase is "Come on, India". Or, as I was told, it is more representative of the spirit of the Nike punchline, "just do it".

There are some people who are not all wrapped up in this monosyllabic, all-encompassing, charged up message that seems to describe everything from a Tendulkar ton (hasn't happened lately) to a 9% Q1 GDP growth; these are the CPM. Nothing ever makes them happy. In fact, it is far easier to say what the CPM are against than it is to say what they are for. They are against "operationalizing" the nuclear deal with a detailed understanding of exactly what it entails, they're against the the communal BJP, & they're against pulling out of the government, as they're against joining it. After a while, it reads like something of a corollary of the famous Holmes axiom "When you've factored in all that you're against , whatever remains, however improbable, must be what you stand for".

What remains though, unfortunately, is underdevelopment. Stability, yes but no industries. Or nothing at least to reckon with.

The CPM is the last-party standing in the way of a mass-hysteria of Chak De India. They're not going away without a fight. How dare you replace all the fancy "isms", ethics & revolutionary stuff? The common man must remain so. Always.