Tuesday, September 13, 2005

Do we need 'experts' in a business?

The answer to this depends a lot on the type of business or the objectives. E.g. if you look at a specialty medical clinic, a specialty fitness center, etc, these places need full time experts to handle the inflow of business on a one to one basis. To scale, these business will need more experts at the different locations. If the expert leaves, it is possible that he would leave a void n the business. Whereas when we talk of a software product business, do we need experts? The answer is of course YES. These experts provide the domain knowledge, they bring in their experience from other jobs, they can crack through problems quickly and they are extremely useful in providing the breakthrough ideas. This is especially very true for a startup trying to bring out its idea to the market. But be warned, working with experts in a startup company is a double-edged sword. For a startup in version 1 or 2 of its product, it can get very easily carried away by seeing something working in the R&D lab (read a very early 'prototype') and be tempted to offer it as a solution to the early customers (in an effort to gather the mind share of maximum customers quickly). In such a situation, depending on the complexity of the software, you may need the very expert, who 'prototyped' the solution, to go and deploy it at the customer location.

This model may work if you limit this exercise to learning from a few deployments (real life scenarios, with the customer's consent) and feeding it back into the prototype and then towards completion. However this very model can backfire if you do too many of these 'prototype' deployments without 'heat treating' the solution within a controlled environment. For all such live deployments, you run a risk of discovering bugs on the customer server (some of which could be dangerous), you always need the expert to maintain these deployments (God only knows what else he did on the customer's server while he was onsite doing the deployment), and you run the risk of overloading the customer support group with emergencies which could well have been avoided in the first place (customer's expectations are not set right and for the customer this is a finished product).

My advice to startups in this mode is to use experts in the research lab to discover solutions, break it down into small & complete deliverables (you don’t want to put out a very mature solution which may not have been tempered enough by customer feedback), do a thorough in house test of the solution or at least the first deliverable (any product you make should be used in house from day 1 - eat your own dog meat), test in a live situation for a few select customers by interacting with them on a one to one basis (don’t put up these solutions on your marketing material unless they are heat treated) and then incorporating it in your product for replication.

So, YES we need experts to provide answers BUT we need systems and processes to capture their output in the business flow for replication and scale.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

I didnt get much work done today!

This 'post' is coming after a very long time. Its not that I havent been thinking about continuing
this series but its just that I have been caught up in two back to back product releases which kept me away from my blogger (and mostly on my desk). BTW I am still caught up in these releases, but I am just squeezing this one article in for now...I had a gentle reminder from a few readers about my promise to expand on my previous blog "It's not just about the code".

I have learnt over the years that besides code, there are a lot of considerations (technical and
non-technical) that can affect a project (positively and negatively). We are not just talking about
schedule, but also about the density and quality of a release. Some one wisely said that "a project schedule slips a day at a time right from the time that the project starts (extend that for quality slippage also)".

So what should be done and what should not be done in order to deliver more than required? I am not going to try and structure these thoughts...like in a book...but just let my thoughts flow in any order that it occurs to me. My suggestions/advice about issues (tech and non-tech) come from my experience and learning on the job and in life. Please use discretion while following my tips and if necessary get help from a consultant about the subject. So here goes...

Recently while I was dropping a programmer colleauge of mine after work, he mentioned during our conversation, that he had a pretty unproductive day and was a little depressed since he really couldnt pinpoint the reasons for the same. In my attempt to help him overcome his depression by finding out the root cause of his unproductive day, I reviewed his activities during the day. I found that he was fine with the tech side of the work on that day...clear specs, simple direct issues, also got a checkin done...etc.

From my own experience, I decided to probe about his health and lifestyle habits. I realized that it would be getting personal, but I know that a lot of people in this world are oblivious of their own body and mind condition. They just go from day to day like robots and feed their physical and mental self with "toxins". They live in what I call a state of "unawareness". Many people dont stop to reflect on what they are getting out of life and whether they are putting their health at a risk to "achieve". I have found that even a distant nagging headache, fatigue, pain, simple stomach ailments, not reading good soul stirring stuff, etc can make you perform at sub-standard levels and you may not even realize this.

Sure enough, my friend had consumed a fair amount of fried goodies at the lunch party, followed by a cola, and cake. Also during the day, he had had more his normal share of tea with sugar and milk. Bingo, his body was full of toxins, making him dull, sleepy and probably a little acidic. All said and done, to "consistently" perform at your peak with a razor sharp mind and a fit body to endure the stresses of todays hyper-competitive world (in any field/profession), one of the most important ingredients is to be in good health, eating well, sleeping well and being moderately active. So is this possible in todays pressure cooker world or fitness and health is a phase in life which comes only after we "achieve"...Watch out for my next blog for some answers...