Sunday 7 May 2017

Free and Open Source Software for you to use..

One of the lessons I learnt as a social entrepreneur, was this: Hardware costs are going down, and software costs are going up.

We made a decision to use only open source software. So it was possible to pick up great hardware, and then put Mint on it. Before that, we had Linux on our machines. Free, and not pirated. Then we used Open Office. Free. And not pirated.

We found that it was possible to dramatically reduce software costs without compromising on functionality, ease of use, or security.

Then we realised it wasn't just us. TCS gives everyone a copy of Open Office (which is free, and equally productive) and you have to apply to get MS Office.

So, here is a cheat sheet. This is a list of things you can do with open source and free software that merits a try.

  • Mint
Mint is the coolest interface. No, its not just a Windows substitute. It is truly neat, clean and slick. Its what we would like the OS to be. Not a thousand features that you have to navigate just to get to the stuff you really need. Do consider trying the OS on one trial machine before rolling it out.

  • Open Office / Libre Office
We've tried both of these, and can vouch for the functional fit.

This is the Go-to place for software. Today, I downloaded a Store management software for a retail space client. It works beautifully!

  • Security
AVG is great. And there are other options. Do try for individual computers. It cant be used to protect the network.

Monday 17 April 2017

The crying need for good CSR Talent

Take a look at this report:

Here are some key metrics for you to consider:
  1. "The number of companies spending CSR budgets exclusively through corporate foundations increased to 72 from 60 last year, reflecting an increasing trend towards companies building their own capacities for implementation. "
2. "Finding the Right Project" remained a challenge for as many as 14% of the companies.

3. Planning and Implementation was a challenge for 44% of the companies.

If there is one thing that this report is trying to say, it is that we desperately need good CSR talent to realise the dream of a progressive India through Corporate Social Responsibility.

A good CSR Program has the following structure:

There is only one thing that can catalyse or ruin this entire chain - people who are able to make the 2 sectors talk to each other successfully.

There is money. There are agents of change (NGOs and government programs). There is a need for funds. Yet, 44% of the companies are not able to plan and implement effectively. 14% of them are still struggling to find the projects, and 12 companies have had to set up their own foundations to do the work.

That is the price that we are paying for not creating great CSR Talent. 8,185 crores was spent by Indian corporates on CSR last year alone. Imagine the difference that can make to a country like India.

It is time to plug that gap and to create greatness through corporate partnership in social spending.

Thursday 30 March 2017

Lessons from Rich Dad, Poor Dad

"Asking your strategy consultant for a discount is like buying diamonds in the vegetable market."

Though the comment was made in jest, the idea behind it lingered with me.

In any exchange between money and knowledge, knowledge holds the power. Because you can put that same money in the mix and not get the same results. But the one who has the right knowledge, will use that money and catalyse a major change. I learnt from "Rich Dad, Poor Dad" a lot of things. 2 of the most important ones were:

  • Keep your specialists happy. Pay them well. Because then, they will bring you the deals that are not in the market. They will search for things that benefit you, because they also benefit them. They will value your business.

  • Keep yourself updated. Invest in high quality training for yourself.
After over a decade, I can more than vouch for the wisdom of both. Working consciously to ensure that the knowledge vendors - the real estate agents, the fruit vendor, the specialists, the tech teams, the storage vendors, the doctors and the teachers... value our business, I have been able to create a network of people who have long term relationships. They understand our needs and respond within our cycle times (which are significantly short).

The second is,  when trying to learn something new, I make an effort to find the best teacher in the domain. Then I call them. And wait. Until they have the time. They are usually 4 to 5 times more expensive than other teachers of the same subject and have a long waiting period. But I have yet to be disappointed in a training of this kind.


Post Note:
There are certain common traits that were observed in these teachers: (because one just wants to share this)

A. They do not advertise. They are not the first names that pop up when you open the searches. They really have to be found.
B. They do not accept all students - This I have observed in an overwhelming majority of cases. They value the craft more than they value the moneys. So they are very careful about who gets to work with them.
C. They are tough taskmasters - On average, one has to put in twice as much pre work with them before every session than one would imagine. For a one hour session, the pre work is from 4 to 8 hours and post work is at least 2-4 hours.

Wednesday 29 March 2017

How to NOT Drown under DATA

Today, I was discussing the data dictionary for a new system that I am designing. The person was a self made entrepreneur who had scaled her business and now wanted to put systems and processes in place. I had sent her a template to let us know what information she currently stores, so we can start work on the design.

Half an hour into the conversation, we spoke about why systems fail at SMBs and what we can do to ensure the same thing doesn't happen with her. She has run incredibly lean operations and did not want this systems initiative to generate a need to increase her workforce.
At this point, we shared what I believe are the 2 most important truths in data dictionary definition for any system. Before you add an element to your database, ask yourself these 2 questions, and you will NEVER drown in data.

1. Where are you going to use it?
"I need it just because" is not a good enough answer. Unless you, as the client, are able to pinpoint why that data is required, you should not put it there. Every element is additional maintenance and operational cost. If you don't know now, in your operations, where you use that data element, you don't really need it.

2. Who is going to maintain it?
If you don't know just now, wait until you do. A "Data Entry Operator" is not a good enough answer. Go right back to your business process and see at what point this element enters your business. Then check if you have someone to enter it into the system at that point or shortly thereafter. If you don't , this element will not give you the right information. Data, when not entered at source, will get corrupt. It's only a matter of time. If its crucial, find a way to enter it at source, and then add it to your database.

PS: If you have worked with me in the past, you already know both these rules. :)

5 elements of Change Management

Last evening, a dear friend and I got talking about Change Management. She is trying to effect behaviour change that leads to better Health and Safety compliance at an organisation.
She told me the very interesting story of the chimney cleaners in Britain, and how a society moved from children to mechanised cleaning. We spoke about a LOT of other change situations across sectors - familial, social, business, individual, national. And then, we were able to identify the top 5 elements that we observed in every case.
  1. Awareness
The first thing to happen, is awareness of a possibility. To know that a different car policy is available to someone else. To see your child's potential partner at a social event to which their friends are invited, to observe the rituals of a different culture.

2. Investment
I have written earlier about the importance of investment in effecting change. It doesn't matter whether the investment is positive or negative. If they are taking the time to criticise you, they are invested.

3. Acceptance
This is the conative-affective component of change. The vital place where people understand and accept the need to change. This should ideally lead to a decision to change, but that's not always true. Sometimes, even when the affective(emotional) component of change is conquered, it is not converted to action. (Think: Diet-Exercise-Meditation-HSE et al)

4. Modification
This is where the months of hard work bear fruit. When the final behaviour modification happens - spontaneously and through unaided recall. When people display behaviour that is in the direction of the intended change, we know that they will do it without supervision and on their own.

5. Mandate
I saved this one for the last. Remember the chimney sweepers? The first mechanical chimney sweep was created in 1803. Yet human chimney sweepers continued to be used  - until the British Parliament was forced to pass the Chimney Sweepers Act in 1875. A mandate is a curious element of change management. Applied at the right time and in the right way, it can catalyse change much faster. Yet, applied at the wrong time, or incorrectly, it can completely reverse the direction of persuasive change. (Think: Social reforms anywhere in the world, OR policy changes at your organisation)

Note: I have studied and worked on Change Management in communities and organisations. This "alternative perspective" article draws heavily from the work of Behaviour Modification Therapy, Complex Change Agent from Human Systems Dynamics Institute, and the theory of consumer behaviour change. Am grateful to all of them.

The Absolute Lack of Urgency

Those of you who know me will know that I have rarely, if ever, displayed a sense of urgent panic in office. In fact, there were days when I found a team member sitting late at their desk and asked them why. They usually responded with something like "Nidhi this needs to go out today." And have usually heard something like "Why? Who will die if this doesn't? " I cannot describe the look of absolute shock on their faces.
Here is something that everyone may not know. In the 10+ years that I led project delivery, most of the projects have been on or ahead of schedule. Rare as it in the IT world, in the ERP world, its even more rare.
So, am sharing my learning of how it was possible to make people go home at 5, and still deliver on or ahead of time in the very dynamic, very slippery world of ERP delivery to large clients.
It was actually, quite simple. In Hindsight. Here goes:
  1. They are not consultants. They are project managers.  
Every consultant was expected to prepare and update their own delivery plan. Obviously, this was different from projects where the most a consultant contributes to the project plan is contingencies and effort estimates. And obviously it made my work a lot harder, as I took in the various plan formats and made them into a coherent whole for the client to review. But it allowed people to take and keep ownership of their work, and more importantly, it taught them project management, so I did not have to do so much of it. It cut out the escape route, because with power comes responsibility.

2. De-glamorise the "Late Stayer"
Yes. One of the most powerful things we did was to make it negative to stay long hours as a matter of course. When someone stayed late, I called them the following day to ask which part of their work plan had failed, to force them to stay late. If they tried to tell me that there was too much work, I asked them whether they created a project plan for 8 hour work day or 10 hours work day. If they had budged for an 8 hour work day, why was a 10 hour work day necessary. Just this one step of de-glamorising the late stay, allowed us to send people home at reasonable time. I learnt this from the leader at SAP GD when I joined.
However, I also actively communicated why it was important for them to go back and sharpen the axe, how their personal time contributed to their in office productivity, and how, in insisting that they plan for, and deliver in the same time, they were training to become better leaders and role models of people in the future.

3. Active Risk Management
Most of us view Risk Management as a set of templates and formats that need to be filled in. But I am a strong votary of Risk Management because I have seen the miracles it is capable of. We entered Active Risk and Opportunity Management in the internal reviews, in the leadership decks, in everything. Just keeping an eye out at all times helped everyone immensely. That's why, one of the first disciplines I wanted to create in the non profit world, was Risk and Opportunity Management. The common sense variety. Not the template and format variety.

4. Templatise, Templatise, Templatise
I cannot count the number of times team members have come back and said, "The requirements are unclear." and the number of times they have heard, "No. You did not ask the right questions."
Using all those years of experience, esp in HCM, I created question templates that were in the language of the client. We used those to get requirements, and we found that when we asked the right questions, we got the right answers. If the client did not know the answers, they at least knew which questions they needed to answer and why.  And that took away the biggest risk to ERP delivery - "Changing/Unclear Requirements"

To conclude
I think the biggest change we need to make is in ourselves - as client and delivery leaders, in believing that it is possible to create productivity without urgency. With that, the rest of the change happens, as it were, in a Domino effect.