Thursday, September 10, 2009

Speeding Up Technology: Thinking People

In the previous two articles I have talked about the need for a vision with an ambition and the need to cultivate leaders. I have talked about the importance of policy. It, however, strikes me that who will make policy? Policy is the product created by people. So we have read about the importance of hiring the right people. But who will hire the right people? Only somebody who believes in it as a concept and is willing to implement it in practice. Moreover, it does not end here and the company needs to be ready with at least ambition-vision + cultivate leadership mindset so as it can make full use of the right people and retain them. Bottom-up changes are generally painful and often viewed with suspicion by almost everybody at top. Top-down changes without getting people involved are viewed similarly by people who are not party to it. The next pre-requisite, then, is a lot of communication and flexibility within the limits of the clearly defined vision/ policy.

The organization is defined by its people. Nevertheless, people cannot operate in a vacuum. Having a leader that nurtures such people and inculcates a sense of pride and ownership in them without duping them is a rarity, and can be a supremely powerful force in the growth of a company.

What has to be remembered, though, is that no policy, no vision can be immutable. If there is one certainty in this universe, it is change. More so in the technical world. The playing field can change completely in few years at best and few months at worse, such is the speed of change. The only defence can be having the right people and cultivating in them a spirit of learning and leadership. I would call it a "nursery" of leaders, hiring brilliant people and preparing them to rise

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Speeding Up Technology: Cultivating Leaders

Most people understand leadership as power and/or authority and there is a lot of talk about the "strength" and "vision" of a leader. However, it is easy to mistake bullying & stubbornness for strength and demagogy & rhetoric for vision. The difference is too subtle and short-term results too similar to cause any alarm.

The generally accepted way to make a new product at greatest speed is to place some brilliant developers under an able Senior Manager or Product Architect. Now, it can take two directions from this basic set up. One way is that the manager just focuses on the current product and executes the project in the style of "Command and Conquer" by making things simpler for his team and spelling out clear instructions to execute the project. If the team struggles, he dives right in and leads from the front ensuring the correct course for the ship. All sailors learn a lot by seeing the able captain in action and there is tremendous growth. He can encourage his sailors to learn and grow.

All is happy in the world till the point, till one of the sailor learns enough to attempt to captain the ship, perhaps a smaller ship. The captain may view it as abject desertion or, worse, covert mutiny. Or he may provide the testing ground for the willing sailor as he knows that the company will eventually have many ships and he cannot steer all of them alone. In this context, the vision and growth strategy of company assumes paramount importance. If there is no growth potential, it will definitely be either desertion or mutiny (with accompanying unpleasantness). Else the business will gain another leader and grow.

This also makes further demand on the captain to actively recognize, cultivate and have an outlet for promising young sailors. Else he should hire sailors who do not harbour such ambitions and are happy sticking their nose only to their immediate work. Since no company can provide an unlimited supply of opportunities, one has to be ready to let go of talented people if they cannot neither find optimum use of the same nor think of ways to cultivate them further.

A company trusts only the best to build the nuts and bolts of their product. If it cannot make a strategy to retain them, it is a shame. This can not only lead to loss of talent but can also disrupt progress of the product due to loss of expertise and problems associated with hiring. Hence, it is in the best interest of the project to give a thought about this before starting. Here, as I said, the vision and policy of a company may be the ultimate deciding factor. At least in the initial life of a company, an entrepreneurial team that generates more entrepreneurial teams can be a powerhouse of growth and innovation. That it will affect speed positively over the long run is but one of the many side-effects of a well-thought and flexible company policy.