Hidden Costs 25

As a business leader, if you think “costs” are only the ones where you spend real money, think again. Have you ever realized the costs of:

  1. having an inefficient leadership team?
  2. setting wrong examples?
  3. not treating people well?
  4. not aligning middle managers with vision at the top?
  5. long unnecessary meetings and deadlocked debates?
  6. efforts spent in resolving personal conflicts and protecting individual/departmental fortresses?
  7. poor communications and expectations management?
  8. not allowing people to make mistakes?
  9. loosing great ideas because of a “compliance” culture?
  10. acting from a reactive standpoint?
  11. not treating your customers well?
  12. not demonstrating integrity?
  13. ad-hoc-ism and lack of process orientation?
  14. not connecting with your people on one-to-one basis?
  15. inefficiencies structured within your org chart?
  16. treating people like machines (and expecting 100% productivity)?
  17. talking only from a “problem” perspective?
  18. re-hiring/training new hires when your experienced people leave?
  19. not training your workforce?
  20. taking “short-term” view of business?
  21. analysis-and-planning-paralysis?
  22. not challenging the status-quo?
  23. un-prioritized improvements and procrastination?
  24. not listening to customers and their unique context?
  25. not learning from your past mistakes?

These are costs too!


5 Ideas To Ensure That Lessons are ‘Really’ Learned

Have you ever experienced the following?

You complete a project and then do a small ‘post-mortem / retrospective analysis’ of what went well and what did not. You then document these lessons in a nice looking template and share it with all stakeholders before getting onto the next project. Next project looks exciting in the beginning and then, same set of challenges are encountered. “Lessons-Learned” often end up being “Lessons-Documented-In-Last-Project-That-Are-Going-To-Show-Up-Again”.

All improvement depends on lessons you document and what you, as a leader, do about it. If you are a business leader, project leader or an improvement expert, here are five practical things you can do to ensure that lessons are really learned.

  • Assign Responsibility: If you have a quality group, great! If you don’t, you can assign the role of improvement expert to any senior member in your team. Mandate should be to improve the process and implement the improvements. Project Managers are best candidates since they deal with these challenges day in and day out.
  • Focus on “actions”: Once documented, identify a set of immediate actions to be taken to ensure that these lessons go into practice. Compile a central action log that contains lessons from all the projects / retrospectives. Assign responsibility for each action and have a deadline. Track the progress from time to time.
  • Maintain a central log of lessons learned: Unless lessons are visible, they don’t go into practice. One idea is to maintain a central log of all lessons learned, actions and resulting improvements. This is also a great way to track improvements.
  • Revisit them: It is easy to get back to your project challenges and forget the lessons learned. Revisit them from time to time. Have monthly update meetings, publish these on your intranet, create easy to view lists of Do’s and Don’ts – whatever! But make sure that lessons learned are visible to people.
  • “Lessons Learned” as inputs to Process Improvement: Convert each lesson into a process. Get the buy-in from teams and then train everyone. This is also a great way to ensure that your quality system evolves with challenges you face in your context.

Lessons are only ‘learned’ when they find their way into the future projects as positive experiences. Challenges help us grow – only when we face new challenges each time and learn how to tackle the ‘old monsters’. Unless we do that, repeating challenges will only wear you and your team out!

Lessons then, are not learned, but just documented. Not fun – I am sure you’ll agree!

Taking a “Project View” of Improvement and Change Initiatives

Yesterday, over a cup of coffee, my friend asked me about my first book and what was my approach towards writing it. I said that I took “project approach”.

This lead to an immediate realization that everything we do is a project, be it loosing your weight, writing a book, painting your home, getting a degree or managing an improvement initiative. For any effort where you have goals, time line, constraints, dependencies, risks and need of resources to be managed – you have a project on your hand. Learning fundamentals of project management is essential for everybody – irrespective of whether you are a project manager or not.

All successful leaders have been great project managers too – they may not have used the formal project plan or a work breakdown structure – but who says project management is only about these essential formalities. Project management is about having a vision, drawing out a plan, leading (others or ourselves), making progress, tracking the direction, managing dependencies, overcoming constraints and most importantly – delivering results.

Here is a simple method of how you can take a “project view” for things you are working on.

  • Know your goals (Vision): Lets say you want to pursue a certification in your field. Now, that’s a goal – a project for you. Name it as “Project Certification”. It is also very important to know “why” you are pursuing this goal and how will it help you advance in your life/at work/in organization. Create a list of such goals, prioritise them and take top 3 goals as projects you would work on.
  • Categorize all your work under these goals (Work Breakdown): Once you have a project defined, decide on phases/activities involved in achieving this goal. For certification, you can have a phase named “Preparation” with activities like identifying the scope, body of work, spending time learning, special training needed etc. Create such phases (milestones) and have core activities in each phase.
  • Create a list of actions (Plan): Now that you know the activities, draw out a basic plan. Give a tentative timeframe to each activity and you’ll know how much time it will take for you to get certified. Identify the resources you will need to get into action e.g. books, training material etc. You can use MS Excel or Google Spreadsheet to draw out these basic plans. Remember – that which does not get scheduled does not get done!
  • Act on the plan (Execute): Start executing the plan – this is where the rubber meets the road. Work on the activities and keep ticking them in plan as they get done. Enjoy the process of working on these activities without getting overwhelmed by the results.
  • Track these actions (Control): Periodically, track your progress. This will give you an idea of what are additional actions / resources you need.
  • Celebrate (Closure): Once you achieve a phase, celebrate. Give yourself a break, relax, unwind and retrospect. What could you do better in next phase so that results are better.

I consider my blog as a project which has a calendar. Initiatives I undertake at work are all planned (and viewed) as projects. This view is very potent – because it helps me push my own goals forward. You can try it out too.

“But this is all common-sense and discipline!”, you’d say. Well, that is what project management is all about! 🙂

Have a Fantastic Friday!

“Practitioner-Led” Approach For Real Improvements

One of the sure ways to fail in any operational improvement initiative is to keep thinking about possible areas of improvements sitting in comforts of a corner cabin. Your thinking, approach and mindset may not necessarily align with those affected by such improvements. In worst case, you might not even be aware of the actual challenges faced by your teams and frontline managers.

For identifying “real” improvements, you need to talk to “real” people on the floor doing the “real” work – building solutions to customer problems, managing them, talking to them and facing operational roadblocks on a day to day basis.

Real improvements are always “practitioner-led” – people who are most affected by an operational challenge are involved in defining the solution. It helps you bring out “solutions thinking” within your team. As a bonus, it also generates better buy-in when you implement the improved process.

If your operational improvement ideas are not coming from people at all levels within the organization, you need to revisit your improvement strategy. Fresh thinking is needed on how you treat your people, align them to organization goals and empower them.

When your process improvement strategy follows a “top-down” path – people will dispassionately comply and their real problems may not even be addressed. When it is “bottom-up” – people are a part of the game. Involved. Aligned. Thinking. Ready to make a difference!


P.S:  The focus of my last  few posts has been improvement – and I continue to think more and more about it. If you read this post in continuation to the previous ones, it may extend a better view of how improvement should be handled. Here are the links:

Wish you a productive week ahead and a GREAT Monday!

Leadership Mindset in Supporting Improvements

At the core of leadership is ability to support improvements. One of the biggest change when an organization embarks upon a process improvement journey is the change in mindset. While the objectives change,  business leaders tend to cling on to traditional management styles of ‘command and control’.

With ‘command and control’, managers will control everything and people will simply comply. Improvement may still happen, but long term sustainable culture change may not!

Total Quality Management is all about empowering people to participate in the change. It calls for patience, extending help, ask/listen and communicate at all levels. Leaders have to realize that they cannot change people’s behavior unless they change theirs. If they believe in command and control style, the second line leaders will never be able to practice ‘initiative-led’ management style. You see, behaviors from the top trickle down through the organization and at some point, becomes the culture.

Unlike factories, the dividing line between ‘people who think’ and ‘people who do’ has blurred. When dealing with improvement, everyone is equally strong and has equal potential to bring about a change. With empowerment, leaders just ‘unlock’ that potential. That, to me, is the basic of modern day leadership. To empower people, enable them, believe that they are powerful, support them and truly ‘unlock’ their potential.

Working on organizational process improvement is a great way to practice these fundamentals of leadership and deliver “value” to business, people therein and the customers.

So key questions as you end this week:

  • What are you improving upon at workplace?
  • Who are you supporting, enabling and empowering?


QAspire Blog was selected as one of the Top 50 Career Resources under “Leadership” category by eCollegeFinder. Recognitions like these not only encourage but also raise the bar. I am both proud and happy.

You must also read: Kurt Harden’s life lessons at Cultural Offering Blog and simply brilliant Nicholas Bate’s Pocket Calculator for Kickstarting Change.

Article Series on Quality – A Round-Up

As announced earlier, I am writing a very exciting series of articles on QUALITY over at ActiveGarage.com – it is a 12-part series that touches upon some of the most critical aspects of building a quality-centric organization culture. Here is a list of articles already posted so far, in case you have not read them.

I hope you will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. The beauty of this series was that I came to realise the power of focused and theme-based writing. It can be a great tool to focus your thinking on a subject and collate that with your own experiences.

Spotlight: An Upbeat Interview with Rajesh Setty

Rajesh Setty is a visionary entrepreneur, author of several books including “Life Beyond Code” and an avid blogger. It is a privilege to interview Rajesh on his recently launched book “Upbeat – Cultivating the right attitude to thrive in tough times“. Upbeat is not only a book for the recessionary times, but is a great resource for some very useful ideas on career management.

[Tanmay Vora] Rajesh, it’s a pleasure interviewing you. First of all, how was “Upbeat” conceptualized? How did you come up with the idea of writing  this book?

[Rajesh Setty]
Thank you Tanmay for the opportunity to have this conversation.
I had an opportunity to build my first startup during the previous recession. It was not easy. The easiest way to define what was happening then was that “nobody was buying anything from anyone and everybody was trying selling something to everyone.” If we loved bad news, then we were in luck. There was bad news everyday – on the TV, in the newspapers, on the radio and there was generally some bad news shared during any interaction with anyone – online or offline.

We learned a lot during that period as the only way to have survived running a “bootstrapped” startup was to stay Upbeat. So I wrote most of it during that journey but by the time I completed the book, that recession was over. So I packed it up and and kept it aside.  I didn’t have to wait for long as there was a another recession very soon. I unpacked the book, updated it and got it published.

[Tanmay Vora]  Why do you think this book was necessary and who all will it help?

[Rajesh Setty]
There are so many opportunities for us to get bogged down today. You can find depressing news via the media – I mean all kinds of media – newspapers, blogs, websites, twitter etc. If you want to find a reason to be unhappy or down, then you will find it plenty outside.
Of course, by being in a bad mood, you can’t get much done. At best, you will find a great excuse for not accomplishing much. Take a look at this equation
Big Dreams + Brilliant Excuses = Success in a Fantasy World.

During tough times people are handed “brilliant excuses” almost everyday. If you take the bait, then you got a license for inaction.

The book is short and talks about how you can avoid getting into this trap and actually take some action during tough times – not just to survive but to thrive!

[Tanmay Vora]  What areas does this book cover?

[Rajesh Setty]
There are five sections in the book:

  1. The Trap: Addresses why we are in a trap today. By just knowing how we get into the trap, we might be able to avoid the trap.
  2. The Discipline: The ultimate discipline is to keep a promise that we make to ourselves. This section talks about how to get into the discipline.
  3. The Strategy: Uncommon problems cannot be solved by common strategies. This section will talk about why you need to “invent” a new strategy and why “common” of “current” strategies won’t work.
  4. The Network: You can rarely do anything significant alone. This section talks about why “giving” (and not “getting”) is the right way to build your network.
  5. The Action: Sitting on the sidelines rarely gets you trophies. This section talks about the need to take action and some immediate steps.

The second part of the book is a workbook and it ends with some suggested action steps for each of the sections mentioned above.

[Tanmay Vora]  If you had to summarize three key messages from the book to readers of this blog, what would those be?

[Rajesh Setty] Here they go:

  1. You have only so much time in your day. So please focus on things that will add capacity to you and others around you to contribute more. This means you will automatically avoid focusing on bad news, gossip and unnecessary “sympathy exchanges” as that will neither add capacity to you or people around you to contribute more.
  2. Relevance all the time: Recession is a time when what was working stops working (typically.) So if something has stopped working for you, the first thing to do is to see if what you were doing is still relevant. If not, it is time to change your game.
  3. Spend less AND spend more. The first quick response to a recession is to cut back on everything. In the process, we tend to cut back on key investments – investments that are required for our growth. This is the time to increase those investments as you need to be growing rapidly. Spend less – meaning cut back on your expenses. Spend more – meaning increase your investments on yourself.

[Tanmay Vora]  Thank you Rajesh for your time and I am sure readers of this blog will be able to pick up some very useful insights from Upbeat to stay upbeat!

Right Questions > Right Answers > Right Results

Questions provoke the thought process – and often right questions lead to right answers.

However, one of the most common traits I have observed in a lot of people is that they keep doing what they are asked to do without asking the right questions. They end up being “task-executors” and add no value to the process.

Asking right questions at the onset gives you clarity on purpose and objective of the activity. When you know the purpose, you start thinking it through and not just execute what is assigned. It makes a hell lot of difference when it comes to doing something right.

So, in a way, right questions lead to right answers which lead to right results.

I have seen meetings that go wrong because purpose was not clear to the participants. I have seen conversations between a manager and team member go wrong because manager was not clear on what he wanted to communicate and why. I have seen corporate initiatives going haywire because they started with insufficient clarity. The list can go on.

Purpose of asking questions could be to seek clarity or drive a thought process. Recently, we were brainstorming on sales strategy for a business unit where I also involved some people from the technical team.

The entire conversation revolved around questions. I threw open questions and they would just think the answers aloud. I would appreciate their thinking and ask further questions. Ideas kept moving forward.  How wrong I was to think that technical guys have no clue about sales?

I asked simple questions like:

  1. What are the key benefits of approach you are suggesting?
  2. Why do you think it will work?
  3. How would you do that?
  4. Is that the best way to execute it?
  5. Any other alternative methods to do it better?
  6. Any other ideas? Is that all you could think of?

During the Management Development Program conducted by Prof. M. S. Pillai, we were told that if you walk with an umbrella when it is raining all over, you won’t get wet because umbrella will not allow rain drops to touch you. Similarly, if you work with a closed mind, you will never acquire knowledge. Just like rain, knowledge is all over. We need to open up the lids of our brains and let the knowledge come in.

I think that questions, right questions, meaningful questions are best tools for opening up the brain and spark off a thought process. Isn’t it?

In this regards, I just loved a quote I read at “The Last Psychiatrist” – great quote to end the post.

“The first business of (science) education should not be to help us answer questions, but to help us ask questions.”

Also read related posts that refer Management Development Program:

Great Quote – Tasks and Power

It is 1:20 AM, Sunday and I am preparing on subject “Project Management and Quality” for a talk I am going to deliver today at 10:30 AM to fellow project managers at Project Management Institute.

Preparing for this exercise pushed me to think beyond the obvious – and I have some fresh insights on issues related to project management and quality assurance. I am looking forward to this event since I will be speaking at a professional forum to a group of experienced and knowledgeable individuals at PMI. Most of my other speaking engagements so far have been with educational institutes and this one’s going to be different.

While going through some of the references, I came across this simple and powerful quote on tasks and power – it was hard to miss this one on the blog. Here it goes –


Very inspiring quote to end my week. Have a great weekend!

Update: The talk at PMI was good, well appreciated and satisfying. I spoke without a powerpoint guiding me (or rather limiting my thoughts). Just could not find time to prepare a PPT. But ideas just flowed in, case studies just came naturally and it was smooth. Amazing how one can go on talking about subjects dear to them.

Perfection v/s. Getting Things Done

I had an interesting experience recently with one of my team members. We were to submit an important project document to client and we decided that we will first freeze the table of contents (ToC) and then move on to filling up content.

Almost a day went by and I had no update on ToC. When inquired, I found that team member was aiming at creating a perfect ToC by referring to all possible external references – without realizing that we had lost a day in pursuit of perfection when we could have done it in less time and could have perfected it as we go along documenting. In pursuit of perfection, you become your own worst critic!

There are situations on project when progress is important in right direction – in my experience, perfection is an ongoing process that actually starts after you set a right direction and make some progress therein. That is the starting point of perfection as a process. When you repeat this process over and over again, perfection gets ingrained in whatever you do – leading to excellence.

Some of the important lessons for me and my team member from this experience were:

  • More you try to perfect something, more time it will take. (and you never know whether it will be perfect at the end!)
  • It does not have to be perfect – just good enough will do.
  • Perfection has to be a process – rather than a one-time-attempt. Perfect Incrementally.
  • Sometimes a quick 90% solution is better than a 100% perfect solution that comes in when it is no longer needed.
  • Focus on a few vital things – and set priorities looking at purpose and time available.
  • Perfection cannot pursued be at the cost of taking actions at right time.
  • Get it done once – then perfect it. Do this over and over again and perfection becomes a way of work.

I think – following two quotes aptly sum up the lessons above:

“Aim at perfection in everything, though in most things it is unattainable. However, they who aim at it, and persevere, will come much nearer to it than those whose laziness and despondency make them give it up as unattainable.  – Lord Chesterfield:

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. – Dr. David M. Burns”