Archive | April, 2013

Avoid complicating things…

23 Apr

Its Jason Fried of 37 Signals who said “Its simple until you make it complicated“. I agree. It really is, until one starts making it complicated. Let me share a recent, relevant experience…

eStomi had had agreed to be vendors to one of our customers to provide niche consultancy on a technology that it had decided not to work on. However, after few discussions, the team realized that the technology which our customer was requesting consultancy on, has become niche. Hence, we decided to consider offering consultancy in that domain too. The challenge was to identify expert/leader who would help us to deliver it without compromising on our quality/reputation. We learnt that one of the organization (let’s call it as XYZ) had approached our customer to fulfil the same needs. However, our customer wasn’t convinced about their capabilities and had rejected their proposal.

Incidentally, we identified to partner with the same organization (XYZ) since they had core expertise but not a strong delivery mechanism or good operational support. I met with their leader to explore the possibilities of partnering for a mutually successful model where in we can leverage their core expertise and provide consultancy to our customer. In the beginning, he had expressed concerns and had doubts whether we would be able to work together as we may be competing for the same customer. After assuring that we would never breach each others’ their trust, the leader agreed to work with us. He also realized that he stood a very little chance to get an order from our customer on his own. In the event, he also realized that the dependency is mutual and they would have to rely on us for ITSM/ITIL consultancy. I slightly differ on what Mark Zucerkberg said. I think the trick is to add the stuff, not take awayLaughing. Today, we have an agreement signed between us to work collectively to grow together.

It was a win-win scenario for all the three parties as our customer was very keen to have B2B model. I think that this is the beauty of being small orgs wherein, you talk to the decision makers straight away, express the thoughts, work out a mutually beneficial solution and close the matter.

Benjamin Franklin very aptly said what I intended to share in the entire blog, in one line- “We must all hang together, or assuredly, we shall all hang separately.”.

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COOIC (Characteristics Of Our Ideal Consultant)

23 Apr

In one of my previous blogs, I have stated what do we intend to do to take our organization to the next level. I would like to dedicate this blog to one of our consultants who has been demonstrating most of the traits even much earlier than I had published the blog. In fact, I would like to share his characteristics.

He joined us in the beginning and has demonstrated perfect learning curve with perfect attitude. He is truly pationate about the organization and constantly works towards making it a better. As they say – ‘Actions speak louder than words’. Let me summarize his actions that demonstrate how I think a true employee/consultant should be.

  • He has referred over 30+ candidates and has also interviewed few of them/has done background checks before referring them to me. He continues to refer more candidates without getting frustrated that none of his earlier references have been materialized so far! What an ideal way to demonstrate trust!
  • Every time I discuss a new feature to be added, he usually ends up developing it the same day and demonstrating it towards the end of day.
  • His passion towards the organization is contagious and seldom I have seen such dedication in other organizations.
  • Interestingly, he continues to look out for new customers as well. Recently, he called me up and asked if he can visit a new prospect, understand their pain areas and demonstrate our capabilities. Note that others would perhaps have opted to consider moonlighting additional assignments for monetary benefits unethically.
  • His hunger for learning is amazing. One of our recent customer was giving a tough time. When enquired if I can pitch in to help, he was quick to revert that he would like to learn how to manage difficult customers. Guess what, after couple of weeks, the customer called up to express that they were very contented with his expertise and work.
  • He has developed a set of critical features for a product that even the product organization hasn’t for years.

Off late, I have seen many employed people undertake additional work (although the agreement with their employers does not allow to do so). Many people do not hesitate to work for multiple organizations while being employed at one, mostly for additional income. I understand that it may be predominantly for the reason as their organizations may not be providing enough challenging assignments. That does not mean that employees can contribute towards other organizations. In fact, they can leverage that spare time (if they have) by contributing new features towards the product, getting additional business, doing pre-sales, spreading word about their organization or any other work that would help them and the organization grow.

The reason to highlight the above pointers is to share that in today’s world where there are plethora of opportunities, it has also become habitual to move on to different organizations who can offer fatter paycheques although the work may be mundane.

I get to see very few people, with the characteristics that I have mentioned above. I have tremendous respect towards such team members who do not just show a great maturity, but also a great trust  factor. This also makes me work harder to get them better assignments / projects and to keep their career path progressing on fast track. The joy and thrill of working with such folks is amazing.

Article submitted towards SiliconIndia CEO-City

23 Apr

Let us accept that any good transaction needs a proper Give & Take. If there is nobody to take, you can’t give. The same philosophy applies in business as well. I firmly believe that nobody should invoice their customers without contributing value to their business lifecycle. Vendors/Partners give service and customers take it. How can one ensure that this transaction is fair? Well, by being expert in relative domain/skills/technology. Indeed, there are other parameters to make it successful and fair. However, if you don’t even have expertise/knowledge of that skills/domain, it becomes a time consuming activity. Moreover,  it also may be considered as cheating to an extent since you learn that expertise/skills at the expense of customers while you are expected to provide services for that cost.

We tend to achieve a fair transaction by keeping our model simple. We understand the customer requirements and THEN get an expert who will be able to do value addition and yet get his career aligned by working on that project/assignment. Yes, we don’t keep anybody on bench and are candid with our customers on the timelines that we take to get the appropriate expert on board. The customer too understands the market and knows that the wait is worth it.

We start our relationship with our employees and customers with trust and confidence. We do not take either of them for granted. We respect their individuality, skills and thought process and give them enough freedom. Rome was not built in a day. We understand the process and constantly keep evaluating it periodically. We are in a process of creating world class technical leaders and consultants. When you are in the field, you have only two choices – Beat or get beaten. What I mean is that either you win or lose the project or succumb to customer antics or politics. The choice is yours. Indeed ethics and attitude come into picture that decide how you manage the situation without getting diluted.

At eStomi, the vision and mission is imbibed in all team members – To be the most sought ITSM/BSM partner/vendor for our customers. Every single employee demonstrates that they are brand ambassadors of eStomi. We do not undertake assignments of small durations. Our consultancy period, especially for Remedy is for a year or 18 months at the least. We provide technical thought leadership that helps to achieve business goals. We try to help the customer by providing services remotely, especially for OTRS consultancy, wherever possible. This helps to save the cost of our customers. Since we are clear in terms of what we are getting paid, we do not hesitate the let the customer know which is in and out of scope. We do not hesitate to ask for payments if we have really added the value. There has been an instance where in we couldn’t complete about 5% of activities due to limitations/dependency of Operating System. We never asked our customer to pay for that as there was no way to provide a solution in that case. At the same time, there has been an instance where in we decided to cut off the relationship with a large customer since the customer didn’t seem interested to oblige the payment for several months despite giving them plethora of services (worth several lacs) free of cost hoping for a long term relationship. You see, it was only a “Take” transaction and never mutually beneficial.

On the other hand, we have a set of customers where in there is a mutual admiration and we work hand in hand so much so that they do not talk to their customers without involving us being in meetings. We have been able to demonstrate our capabilities by completing their major milestones in a month or two that were pending for over year and a half, so much so that they refer us to their other groups for implementing critical projects. We even provide consultancy to organizations who have ITSM products; but not enough expertise to convince their customers on ITSM solutions. Why? Simply put, its not only that we are skilled experts and professionals, we really DO contribute to our customers’ business lifecycles.

Graceful v/s Manipulative Sales

23 Apr

One of the Portuguese proverb says -“Stumbling is not falling”. Well, this time I would like to congratulate one of our competitors for winning a bid to implement Helpdesk and teaching us a good Sales lesson. Although the competitor does not practice the technology we use, this incident has helped us to prepare better by considering solutions in other technologies.

The prospect first called me a month ago to demonstrate our capabilities to meet their requirements. I went to meet them to basically understand their expectations. Since they wanted to have a certain set of features on Day 1, we worked to come up with a proposal focussing only on those requirements. We set up a demo to showcase the standard features, followed by couple of more demos after they asked us to demonstrate our capabilities to quickly configure with different scenarios. We did all that was asked. Net result? They called us and told us that they have shortlisted another vendor to implement the solution in different technology! When asked for the feedback, we were told that other vendor was more proactive and had done homework of their business. It was a kind of blow since we had followed up with them and provided demos and visited their office whenever we were asked.

I then tried to analyze what went wrongsmiley. I can perhaps summarize it with below thoughts by well known personalities –

  • If you are not taking care of your customer, your competitor will.
  • I like to think of sales as the ability to gracefully persuade, NOT manipulate, a person or persons into a win-win situation.
  • Sales are contingent upon the attitude of the salesman – NOT the attitude of the prospect.

I was trying to ensure that we are not overcommitting, at the same time, not manipulating either. We were very candid in sharing the details with the prospect and ensuring to give him a correct picture.

I remember showing slight discomfort when the prospect asked us to demo for the fourth time and enquired if we can include all stakeholders instead of repeating demo again. I later learnt that our competitor was all over our prospect in terms of agreeing to do anything that was required. In short, when we didn’t take care of our prospect, our competitor did, by converting a prospect to a customer! We have learnt a pretty neat lesson and would be taking necessary steps going forward. Nonetheless, we would not deviate from our core philosophy of being graceful and candid while doing sales. We did stumble, not fell down. I think it was worth stumbling thoughsmiley.

As Vince Lombardi said, ““The real glory is being knocked to your knees and then coming back. That’s real glory. That’s the essence of it.”

Version 2.0

23 Apr

We have been around for over 30 months and I remember we being called as startup even till yesterday, although not in terms of maturity but referring to number of years since inception. I intend to retain the startup culture (freedom, being curious, cost optimal, juggling different things efficiently, having sharp learning curve, customer focus, learning from experience, close-knit team, hungry to explore and share new technologies/discoveries with team members); yet, work hard to come out of being tagged as “startup” since the growth seems too good to be considered as a beginner.

Undoubtedly and wholeheartedly, the credit goes to people including employees, customers, vendors (and supporters) who trusted us and our capabilities in the initial stages. Yes, we were naive and didn’t know the business techniques, challenges, even some of the common business/finance terminologies when we started. Nonetheless, we did one thing right before getting people on board – we spent more amount of time with them discussing, understanding and setting each other’s expectations. We have had set a bar of getting only the experts with proper attitude on board. Taking a cue from ‘Ratatouille’ movie, we strive to ensure that when customers talk about us, they say this unequivocally – “The best ITSM consultants in the universe are on earth. The best ITSM consultants on earth are in Bangalore. The best ITSM consultants in Bangalore are at eStomi”.smiley

OK, ok… I hope that helps to set the platform to put the context for Version 2.0. Past couple of years, we have grown gradually in terms of number of employees; however, significantly in terms of reputation and bagging large orders from large customers. We have been convinced about our model and are confident about our road map for the next few years. To ensure that our team also transitions to the next level, we have planned a few important initiatives –

  • Keeping ahead of the game – Since our goal is to provide best consultancy in niche areas, it is extremely important for us to keep appraised of latest developments/releases/issues/solutions on the corresponding technologies. Regular and effective knowledge sharing sessions amongst the team members would help us on this initiative.
  • Giving back to the society – It is necessary to embibe a culture of giving as well. Although it is a matter of personal choice, we believe that an opportunity should be given to serve the society. We intend to contribute by giving a day off for helping the needy or by matching the employees contribution equally towards such NGOs.
  • Personality development – We would be rewarding our team members for publishing outstanding blogs in relevant technologies. This would make them come out of their shell and explore things that they may not have explored. This would make them think about different perspectives when they would research to write a blog.
  • Growing wealth, not just money – We believe in growing together. Clearly, one needs to understand difference between value creation and wealth creation. I prefer linking wealth creation with value creation/addition. Hence, as a part of rewarding good work or the extra miles that our team members walk, we would brainstorm what initiatives the team members would contribute, work on timelines and play different roles in helping the organization take to the next level.
  • Creating leaders – As Tom Peter says, “Leaders dont’ create followers, they create more leaders”. We intend to chalk out the path for each of our team members so that they are capable of leading and managing complex projects independently as well as by mentoring their subordinates. A thorough planned offsite meeting, action items and regular follow-ups is underway. My objective from this session is to create more TEBAs (True eStomi Brand Ambassadors).

My monthly blogs will continue. I should be able to revert to you on the progress/success of above initiatives in another 6 months to a year. Any feedback on helping us to take to the next level are welcomesmiley

The “O” factor

23 Apr

Recently, “Omnishambles” was declared Britain’s word of the year. It is defined as “a situation that has been comprehensively managed, characterized by a string of blunders and miscalculations.”

I found it interesting as I think that I could relate it with some of our customers as they seem to create such situations (omnishambles) regularly. We educate them with best practices; however, by the time we complete one aspect, we see the “O” factor being created in other area.

We have one of our customers, where they perhaps excel in being part of “O” factor. The way their so called senior leadership deals with their customers, the way they manage attrition of critical resources despite knowing that they are the most important factor in delivering complex deliveries, the way they plan and execute projects with less capable managers, the way they slip their project deliveries consistently and face the flak of their customers regularly etc undoutedly lead them to a big “O”.

Well, you may think -‘Thanks, but tell us what do you do? We face these challenges in almost all organizations’. That’s right. We have always considered our customers as our partners and a part of mutual growth. Their failures/successes are our failures/successes. We often talk to their senior leaders giving them a perspective that they may be missing. Interestingly, we are mostly considered the interface between them and their customer. Hence, ensuring ethics, we often guide what their customers expect. We often groom their managers and hand hold to help them communicate better with their customers. Many a times, team members of our customers approach our consultants seeking best practices or ‘can you help me resolve this pls?’ issues.

I don’t intend to brag about our services in this blog. The point though, is, why does the commotion exist? Occasionally, I have also observed that some managers/leaders tend to either ignore the chaos or let it die down on its own. They seem to give the message – DKDC: Don’t Know, Don’t Care; although, in reality, they seem to simply choose not to try or rather wait until someone resolves the issue. As you may have noticed off late that there is usually an item song in most of the Bollywood movies. Well… you get the point, right?

We also understand to what extent do we need to stretch/be flexible, especially, if you think that the customer is actually taking you for a ride. In short, you need to judge “O” factor of your customer before you take a final call. For instance, let me share instance of another customer…

We have had signed a contract to support one of most complex implementation for this customer. We implemented solutions for more requirements than what were agreed. We went out of our way to provide the solutions for ‘out of scope’ customizations, fix security issues that didn’t fall under support contract and help configure innumerable applications to help them move most or all of their end users to this application. We were always promised that our efforts would be paid off by awarding additional projects. Many a times, we ended up having 3 resources instead of one that was billable. Guess what? We have not received the payments even for the efforts towards ‘scoped’ activities for past few months – we now don’t see any point to get paid for the efforts that we stretched for ‘out of scope’ activities, although promised.They are not willing to consider what was signed as “In scope” activities and have been pushing to deliver more without paying additional (or even for that matter agreed) cost. They seem to unintentionally extend their “O” factor to us rather than help us to get out of the big “O”.

Yes, you can ask us the same question – ‘What do you do in such cases?’ Simple. We are very clear on our mission and vision. We have stretched wherever it is possible and to an extent we could. We have done that past 8-9 months. Guess what? We have informed the customer that we will not be able to continue providing services without getting paid. As I mentioned earlier, we partner with our customer to grow together; however, if the customer signals us that they do not care about our growth, we need to take a call. Its not that we have not tried to resolve the issues earlier. We have had elaborate discussions and have resolved many of their critical issues without charging a dime, especially when they were in dire need. Today, if those efforts do not seem to be valued as the important activities have been completed. We should have judged the “O” factor a bit early in the game. I hope you are not late. Are you?

How is your company known?

23 Apr

It is a well-known thought – “A man is known by the company he keeps”. It attracts immediate attention as everybody tries to ensure that he is associated with corresponding type of personalities. What about the folks/group/company on the other side though? Would they be interested to associate with you? Do you ever think that you need to ensure proper synergy to be part of that group/company too?

Usually most of the folks take it for granted that once they belong to the group/company, they need not worry how their behaviours/actions impact the company. Now, that decides how keen the company is to be known and how seriously does it consider its reputation before associating it with anybody.

We had few such situations where in we had to take a call. We often get approached by freshers and experienced folks seeking job opportunities. We give a fair chance to all to demonstrate their capabilities. Most of the times, the freshers are too excited and promise to work hard to deliver the expectations. We were approached by a group of 4-5 freshers who were willing to join us and give a long term commitment. I had decided to give them an opportunity after evaluating them post a few weeks of training.

We started training them and giving them feedback that they were not upto mark and had to gear up quickly. We didn’t see much of the improvement. We had warned them that we may stop training if they didn’t submit the given assignments with quality. We also went to an extent of moving our office close to where they stayed as they would often cite commuting challenges reaching to our earlier office and how it was impacting their time to learn. We were losing confidence in them and had given them enough heads up to demonstrate a quick learning curve. I couldn’t take up additional projects as I didn’t believe that they would deliver it with quality and I certainly didn’t want to lose our credibility with our customers. Plus, associating such folks with us was impacting the mission and vision with which the organization was formed. I had to pull off the plug and ask them to part with the organization.

Another similar incident had taken place earlier. I had entrusted a young enthusiastic person that he would be able to deliver the projects on time.  I had set the expectations and he had promised to deliver quality once we start working with customer. After taking him to the customer and following up to deliver the planned project items, I gave up and then ended up learning the new technology by working over the weekends. I had to let him go as I didn’t want to plan project deliverables based on his slow learning curve.

We are glad that our customers have frequently demonstrated that they would like to associate with us. We constantly gauge ourselves to ensure that our customers are not embarrassed to be associated with us. It is a win-win solution and turns up as mutual beneficial. If you are wondering how would we like our company to be known as? We would like to be the most sought partner/vendor to provide ITSM/BSM consultancy. Are you one of the future employees reading this? You know how to contact ussmiley