Questioners and Contributors

I just figured out there is a simple metric that clearly shows why your project might not be moving as fast as it should.

Let M be the number of people in your team who don’t contribute much but just ask questions or give empty instructions. These people ask questions or give instructions like the following:

  • What is the status of this feature/bug?
  • Hey, our QA is blocked on this environment issue. Could you help us fix this?
  • Is our security review done?
  • Is our accessibility review done?
  • Why do you think this task will take so much time? I believe it could be done in half the time.
  • Please review Mr. X’s code.
  • Please update your time sheets.
  • I want you to come over weekend and finish the stuff.

Let N be the number of people who actually contribute. These people know that developing software takes time. They know the uncertainties involved in the development work. They focus on one thing at a time. Some of them need guidance. Some of them provide guidance.

The ratio M:N is extremely important. Teams that have ratios like 1:2, 1:3, 1:4 etc. will move faster than those with 1:1, 3:2 etc.

Instead of hiring/promoting more of M get those people who fix bugs instead of asking status, fix system issues, make your product secure and accessible, people who review code and not just instruct others to do so, people who strive to ensure that their team doesn’t need to work over weekends.

You need only one effective person i.e. M=1.


Where does agility begin?

We hear so much about agile practices, so much training, so many workshops, so many buzz words. But where does the overarching agile story begin?

In my opinion it begins with the product definition, rather, precisely with the attitude with which you begin defining your product.

The attitude I am talking about is the one about making the definition lean, simple, practical. Attitude that doesn’t make you start with an idea of building a rocket but the one that makes you sensitive to the complexity of existing solutions and urges you to simplify them, sometimes even leading you to morph the problem itself.

Interestingly, some well-placed and genuine constraints push us to be simple and agile.

Do you have a decision?

Write that at every meeting room’s exit.

We hardly take meetings seriously. It has become a casual affair where we sit, debate, make our point, bloat ourselves and come out without deciding anything. What is the point? It is such a productivity drainer.

Before going to your next meeting ask yourselves “What is the decision I am looking forward to come out with?”


Even before ensuring that the meeting is decisive ensure that it is really really required. “Getting Real” by 37signals puts this point lucidly in this essay.

Don’t hide behind the “we”

Don’t hide behind the “we” when you know you are the “I” who is clearly responsible. That is not team spirit, it is cowardice. Declare boldly that “I am responsible for what went wrong”. Just using “we” doesn’t make a team. However, genuine “we”s are an indication of already existing team-spirit. As an example:

Case – 1:

Team Member A: “My bad. I should have unit tested my code. I could have prevented the escalation and bad reviews.”

Team Member B: “That’s ok. It happens. Even we are responsible. We should have reviewed your code more diligently.”

Case – 2:

Team Member A: Had we reviewed the code diligently we could have prevented this disaster.

Other Members: Surprised to see how smartly A escaped blame.

Which one of the above is a true team? I suppose it is pretty clear – the one with the right balance of  I and We.

Rewarding your loyal customers.

Businesses should learn how to reward their loyal customers. New or old, customers cannot be fooled by marketing gimmicks. It is much better to just keep providing good service instead of worthless rewards and offers. A few days back I received a message from the book store I visit frequently about an offer. It said:

“Shop for Rs. 1000 & above and get upto 10% off on purchase at Reid & Taylor. Offer valid for 30 days only.”

In my opinion the thinking behind this offer is completely flawed. One important thing they failed to notice:

People who come to their store frequently may or may not prefer Reid & Taylor. They may not even be able to afford it. Probably, they don’t need to buy clothes for a month. But one thing is beyond doubt. They love books and they don’t need any motivation other than a good book to come to your store. Above that, if only you designed your offer around books you could have kept your customers loyal, happy and make them spread the word.

For me it is easy. There’s another book store with equally good collection and which offers 10% off on all purchases for its loyal customers. I just shift my loyalty.

Moving a tread mill and some lessons in professionalism.

When it comes to private service sector in Bangalore customer satisfaction is an unknown term. There are very few dependable service providers and most of those are themselves dependent upon unprofessional providers down the chain. Following are some experiences I had when I had to transport a tread mill from Bangalore to Hyderabad recently and some learnings.

Case 1: ANZ packers and movers. Very polite and mannerly in communication. Sound very earnest. After the first call, I really felt fortunate to have stumbled upon such a provider, almost confident that my work will get done without any hassle. The price they quoted was also pretty competitive. However, my joy did not last long. They never confirmed my booking. I had to follow up with them frequently to find out if they are willing to take my stuff or not. Every time they would make some excuse. The concerned person is not yet available, we’ll get back to you with the details soon etc. All very politely. They also said that the package will reach only the week after as they can’t transport a single object. I could understand that. Despite all that they could not take my booking. I finally gave up.

Case 2: Agarwal packers and movers. This was a really pathetic experience. When I call up, the executive tells me that it would take Rs. 4500 to pack and transport. That was unreasonable. ANZ had quoted 2,500. When I negotiated she said she would check with her manager and I should call her in 5 mins. I call back. This time some other person answers and quotes Rs. 6600!. It was not difficult to realize I should drop the call.

Case 3: Deccan 360. I had a good experience with them before when I transported a TV set. But they are only movers and would not pack stuff for me. After experiencing the other two I thought let me try breaking up the need. I’ll figure out how to do the packing. They quoted approximately Rs. 1300 for a door to door transport (It turned out to be Rs. 1500 but that was ok). I confirmed the booking. The process was quiet smooth. They also charged objectively based on the volumetric weight instead of quoting out of the blue (6,600!)

Case 4: JD packers. They only pack. They won’t move stuff. I call the proprietor. He quotes Rs. 1500 for just packing. I already had the carton. He just had to seal the case. I said thank you and held the phone. Any point negotiating with such providers?

Finally, I spent Rs. 100 on packing material, spent not more than 2 hours and did the packing myself. Deccan 360 picked up my package and hopefully it will be delivered on time and intact.

There were few things to learn (for being a successful service provider) from the above cases:

1. Avoid short-cuts. Give a second thought to your decisions. Agarwal packers and movers must have thought if I get trapped they would get a good profit. If I don’t they don’t loose much. But that’s a really short-sighted conclusion. You have lost a customer forever, my friend! You have failed to hire a marketing professional who would be happy to work for you free of cost. Did you even do the math how much you saved there? You did not even consider the fact that I am not moving my entire house. I am still in Bangalore and a prospective returning customer. Next time I could come with a bigger request.

2. Unprofessional partners can bring your business down. Deccan 360 seems to partner with a local transport service for the package pickup from customer’s place to their store. Deccan’s executive would first come and register the package and collect the payment. The pickup truck comes after that. In my case, the executive had to literally beg the pickup truck driver to reach my place on time. It was just a 15 min. drive from their store to my house. Thankfully, the executive managed to persuade the driver and I was saved (I had to go somewhere in couple of hours). You almost lost good will even after being professional yourself. The customer has no idea you had partnered with an unprofessional guy and should be prepared for hick ups.

3. It is waste of time being polite and sound professional if you can’t fulfil the customer’s requirement. Better you communicate clearly and honestly. I would still comeback to you later if my requirement matched your capabilities and your intentions. That’s a fair deal.

Opportunity Cost

Opportunity Cost is a term used in economics to indicate the cost of choosing one option over others in terms of what you loose by not having chosen any of the other options. This is applicable when the choices are mutually exclusive. The cost may not be measurable.

The opportunity cost of choosing an airline over a railway is the extra price you pay for an airline ticket and that of choosing a railway over an airline is the time and the other opportunities you would loose.

When it comes to housing you have two choices, either you could rent a house or purchase one using a housing loan. The opportunity cost of purchasing a house is the amount of money (interest and the extra costs) that you would save if you took a house on rent or more profitable avenues (if any!) where you could invest that money. The opportunity cost of renting a house is your ever reducing capacity to purchase one in future. It is what you’ll pay for a similar house ten years down the line.

Opportunity cost of employing inexperienced personnel at low cost for a job is the extra cost you will have to spend training and monitoring them, reduction in the quality of work and possible re-work. The opportunity cost of employing only experienced personnel is the eventual high price one would have to pay and sustainability of the venture some years later when experienced personnel become scarce.

For a developing nation the opportunity cost of spending its capital on defense is the reduced capacity to solve basic problems like poverty, education, employment and infrastructure. Whereas the opportunity cost of spending more capital on basic problems is the reduced capacity to defend itself.

Most often the opportunity cost is not tangible. For e.g.

  • Effect of over-work on health.
  • Health expenses and misery saved by choosing to walk or ride a bicycle.
  • Increased resourcefulness by spending some time regularly on improving/diversifying one’s skills.
  • Increased product quality and happy customers achieved by spending on effective quality practices that presently appear more expensive.

When it comes to choices involving intangible value, the opportunity cost is realized mostly only in hindsight.