Monday, June 12, 2006

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The Manager as Problem Solver


In this article, I try to correlate the mindsets of the manager and the scientist’s problem solving abilities. A manager has to interact various different scenarios and bring in a balance to the system and environment he operates in. For example, a typical managerial problem involves the relationship of self, organization, local environment, people and results. Each brings in a fresh set of problems to operate on.

The Management Process

The manager needs to bring in a balance between the organization, self, people, local environment and results. Each of this needs a separate faculty of the mind and thus the five mindsets of the manager suggested in the shown figure. Only defined framework in a managerial process is the organization which has certain clarity and where a defined analytical mindset can be brought to place. However, other environmental forces that the manager needs to take decisions are all not so scientific problems. Thus, to a greater extent a managerial problem solving can be considered very similar to a discovery and understanding of the world as has been described in the “Scientist a problem solver”. However, many a times such problem solving can be to find the local optimality.

Laws from Data

A manager does not have any clear definition of problem. Most problems he faces needs to be analyzed from the data that is available to him as experiences. The experiences can be his or his fellow beings. A reflective mindset of a manager creates connections between the various signs that’s available to him. And, these connections may be generalized as the experience becomes firmer and clearer.


The management education is known for its 2 x 2 matrices and frameworks. Management being a subject that deals with significant alternatives needs to have representation methodologies which are simple and yet powerful enough to convey ideas. The interpretation of simple representations can be carried over to making complex decisions. However, if the problem cannot be isolated and brought into a simple framework it will be hard for a manager to keep track of the decisions which are multi-part, multi-step and can extend for longer periods of time.

Finding an Explanatory Model

Managers are known to look for frameworks which can explain the systemic nature of organization, society and environment. Psychologists and sociologists have come up with various explanatory models that explain human behavior and interaction. There may be large exceptions to the rule in such frameworks, but having a couple in one’s arsenal definitely makes the battle easier. A reflective and worldly mindsets bring in the required moderation in usage of these models.

Designing Good Experiments

Case analysis is considered an effective methodology for management education. Cases are essentially a focused definition of a real life situation. They come handy, as they bring in an analytical mindset to a real life problem which is normally hard to express in an analytical manner. As a manager, it’s important to create cases from critical real life incidents. The idea of a case should be so designed that from the look of it, it may sound an analytical exercise. However, the other faculties of a manager’s mind should be strong enough to filter such that the case looks as if it can be analytically solved. Designing cases can help a person use them in future, understand the intricacies of the situation and keep in mind what facts to use and what not to use and create problem isomorphs.

Problem Isomorphs

No two humans are the same. Hence, no two management problems are alike. Every case should be dealt with its uniqueness of characteristics. Does that necessarily mean that there can be no medical treatment as no two humans are alike in every respect? It can be seen with all their differences human beings of a same cultural upbringing have similarities. Organizations of similar sizes and domains behave alike. However complex an organization may be, certain processes in the organizations are alike. Hence, problems in one situation can be brought into another domain. A manager is a person who with his vast experiences should be able to make those correlations and identify the isomorphs. However, a worldly, collaborative and reflective mindset can make him see the differences within the isomorphs and compensate for the differences.

Experiments without Independent Variables

Most management problems have no variables known. What is known in is something needs to be achieved. An action orientation without analytical mindset would mean put more effort and results can be achieved. But, it’s also known that in a resource constrained world this is just wishful thinking. A manager can come up with manageable changes and study the effects on the output by going beyond the action mindset. Rather than identifying the input variables, changing intermediate processes can lead to better output maximization. This would mean better collaboration, people management and support of society. Searching for input variables is like finding out the cause of the problem. Many a times a satificing attitude of solving the problem with alternatives possible can be a worthwhile approach to consider.

The Manager as Satisficer

Managers are by definition satsficers. This has its positives and negatives. The benchmarks for most managerial processes are not known earlier. Hence, managers tend to propose estimates based on historical data and expected achievable margin. Once that’s met they take a satisficing attitude of making that as their
achievable target. Every re-engineering effort tends to challenge that satisficing target and achieve further. A good model and conducting right experiments backed by problem isomorphs should be well analyzed before taking a satisficing viewpoint of a management problem.

Reflections on “The Scientist as Problem Solver”


H. A. Simon has described how the scientific research, he has been conducting is very similar to problem solving in other form for example a game of chess. The process of scientific discovery according to him is a process of recognition. He describes the whole scientific discovery process in the following parts:
• Formulating Problems
• Laws from Data
• Representations
• Finding an Explanatory Model
• Designing Good Experiments
• Problem Isomorphs
• Experiments without Independent Variables
• The Scientist as Satisficer

Formulating Problems

The first and foremost part of any discovery process is identification and formulation of the problem. However, it’s the case that a person actually finds the solution of another problem while trying to solve one problem. Pasteur’s famous dictum as “Accidents happens to the prepared mind” has been cited to justify this. In explaining the failure of neo-classical economics theory in a described situation Simon could figure out how bounded rationality of human nature can overlook the rational global solution to the problem.

Laws from Data

Many a times, scientific theories are found embedded in data rather than an established theory proving the same. For example, when Kepler provided information on earth motion it was purely data driven. Newton postulated laws gravitation and proved that his laws can explain Kepler’s observed data. Similarly, Lotka’s assumptions could be solved lot later by logical arguments provided by the author. More over similar research has been found to be conducted by other researchers in parallel fields without being aware of each other’s work.


Representations are very important for any scientific experiment. Although, words can describe the problem a clearer understanding comes from imagery describing the problem at hand. Einstein and Hadamard agreed in their exchanges that words do not stimulate the process of thought significantly. Simon has shown that although mathematical models help but a physical mental picture like the room and cell example helps getting a clearer thought process.

Finding an Explanatory Model

Finding an explanatory model for a phenomenon is quite important and useful in coming up with a solution. One way is to systematic thinking in the direction as has been done Lotka’s problem case. The other approach is identifying a similar problem which has been solved. The example the author uses is of defining theory of problem solving by using digital computers as a model.

Designing Good Experiments

Designing a good experiment is very critical in a scientific problem solving exercise. Many a times experiments bring out facts that were never captured in the model thus bringing in surprises. The author tries to find out an experiment on Chinese language on STM which is a natural experiment rather than creating an artificial system.

Problem Isomorphs

Problem isomorphs are identical in task domains and legal domains yet have been described by different words. He describes two scenarios of tower of Hanoi and missionary and cannibal problem both being isomorphs may take a human being different times to solve. The idea that the solution of a problem depends
only on the size of task domain is not a valid assumption to make.

Experiments without Independent Variables

Many a times in experiments it’s hard to define exact independent variables. However, redesigning the experiment in such a way that the results are unintuitive can be a good means of coming up with results. The impossible problem formulation has provided the author existence two distinct human cognitive system in addressing the problems. Simon wants to portray that observation is far superior in solving the problem than hypothesizing and proving based on the hypothesis.

The Scientist as Satisficer

Scientist is ultimately a satisficer as well. When she is in search of something she postulates certain possibilities that may be occurring in the nature. Ultimately she provides a model of sorts and tries to validate that with the natural happenings. When the model matches with the natural occurrence within limits she concludes the completion of the experiment. However, it’s not an endless quest for finding the right answer but a relationship of matching a model definition with the expected natural occurrence.


[1] H. A. Simon. Models of My Life, chapter The Scientist as Problem Solver, pages 368–387. The MIT Press, October 1996.

Reflections on “The Five Minds of a Manager”


The separation of management from leadership has promoted hubris and its destructive implications
can be seen today’s organizations. There is some opposing aspects which has been told to the managers like be global as well as local. Be collaborative as well as competitive. Effective management needs to balance this seemingly contradicting concerns. To bring this balance managers need to develop “mindsets”. The authors have classified five aspects of a managerial mind. First, they explain how they came up with the mind-sets, they describe each in some depth and then the relationships between the mind-sets.

Why the mind-sets?

Organizations often times come to situations when it knows what to execute but appropriateness of the execution in the situation may not be quite clear. A disconnect between “action” vs. “reflection” can be very dangerous for such circumstances. Authors call action without reflection as “thoughtless” and reflection
without action as“passive”. These actions need involvement of other people hence it needs “collaboration”. The action also needs to be modified based on the context or “worldly” view. And, no such act can be complete with an“analytic” mind-set. Considering these the authors have came up with five different mind-sets of a manager.

• Managing Self: Reflective mind-set
• Managing Organization: Analytic mindset
• Managing Context: Worldly mind-set
• Managing Relationships: Collaborative mind-set
• Managing Change: Action Mindset

The Reflective Mind-set

It’s important for a manager to internalize the facts rather than merely a spectator to the situation. Reflective mind-set brings in the happening and creates an ability to correlate it with self and thus to get a broader perspective of the situation. Reflection is not about mirroring people but about internalizing the happenings and create a deeper understanding. An empathetic view can closely describe this aspect.

The Analytic Mind-Set

Modern organizations in the essence have become highly structured and can be explained by a systemic approach. Division of labor and structured processes needs an analytical mindset to realize the systems, processes and their interconnections. However, managers need to interpret the soft data available around into the analytical framework as well rather than overtly stuck with numbers and values.

The Worldly Mind-Set

Worldly mind-set needs a “glocal” view of the situation. While, it’s good to have a global view of the world the barriers in the world is lowering are facts. Substantial differences still exist in the local situations vs. global situations. Local customs, feelings, holidays, sentiments should be looked at as well while focusing on the global view as well. A cultural dissonance can affect employee morale, customer unhappiness and social balance. Managers need to take a worldly view so that a balance across can be managed.

Collaborative Mind-set

Collaboration is about relationship building and providing a ground for people to exchange and work. It needs to change the manager at the top attitude and managing people. Rather the view point should more towards bringing in synergy across cross functional, far-located teams to be able to deliver.

The Action Mind-set

The business is facing change very rapidly. Similarly, every person in the organization also has aspirations, emotions and motives that vary drastically. Holding a steady course and bring in a direction is important to change. The action mind-set is not about to create a dictatorial fear among the teams but to understand the capabilities of the teams and the difficulty levels of the terrain and bring in a balance between both.

Bringing all the mind-sets together

All these mind-sets do not work in isolation. They need to be weaved together to create a balance. For example action and collaboration is a requirement to bring in synergy in the teams. When you get a road block reflections provide solutions to overcome. Then again more focused action with analysis of the activities will help in realizing the end objectives. A worldly mind-sets provides the needed balance all through the cycles. Although, it’s a necessity for all managers to show deep inclinations to all the mind-sets, typically managers tend to tilt towards a few of them. However, if these can be identified and the interweaving can be done at the organization levels, this can bring in enough balance in the organization.


[1] Jonathan Gosling; Henry Mintzberg. The five minds of a manager. Harvard Business Review, pages 54–63, November 2003.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Individual Contributors and Managers - Indian Software Industry

It has been sometime I am seeing a trend in Indian IT industry (both Indian operations of MNCs as well as Indian companies) to hire more architects. Is this arrangement working out effectively? My belief is, it is not. Here, I present some of my ideas why I believe it is not effective as it can be. A few days back I saw a recruitment advertisement which asked for Software Architects with PMP certification. What is surprising to me is, what an architect is going to do with Project Management certification when there are able project managers associated with the project, or the project managers are not able?

Looking Outward vs. Inward

One major difference between an architect and a manager is the viewpoints. Most architects are supposed to have an outward view of technology. Where the industry is moving technologically and how the organization can maximum benefit from that. While first level managers are supposed to be responsible for the delivery and issues of the project and processes. In reality, most managers do not interact with their reportees often. It ends up architects deciding the schedules, being aware of people issues and many a times getting deep into it and landing up solving the whole issue themselves. While, they should be ideally be spending more time in outward enhancement of the product by comparisons with competitors they involve themselves in nitty-gritty details of the project at every stage.

I think the closest match between an architect in the business paradigm is a product manager. Both have an outward looking role. What can they bring from the environment to organization. While the project management process is more an inward looking role in actually developing the inter strengths in the organization. However, in most organizations at least in India has a dominating inward looking focus which leads to the outward looking role seem dysfunctional. Product managers and architects are known cynics inside the organization while customers and partners look at them as real value drivers. The cynicism of architects and product manager is what makes them take larger stock of the market and design or create something that's beyond the organizations inward capability. A dominating inward force on them will lead to organizational compliance management than building a culture of candor. If you do not have a culture of candor, architects have very little role to play.

Why is this mismatch?

Is your Problem that Difficult?

The most important question to ask here is "Is the Problem that you are trying to solve that hard?" Most of the time it is not. Most of the problems are clearly well defined. I feel many Indian Software Companies cannot even justify their business model being different from the other. The answers I always get is like the old Maggie tomato ketchup ad "It's different". If the problem is not that hard why do you need an outward looking role in technology? At least not hiring is a better option than bringing such a person and asking him to manage projects.

Are we prone to looking Inwards?

One of the classic problem is cultural. Hofstede defined a model for cultural significance in management practices. One factor which is very important as for Hofstede is the concept of "Power Distance". India has a higher power distance than most societies. Here is what it translates to:

High Power Distance
  1. Inequality is a fact of life - Everyone has their rightful place.
  2. Some are independent, others are dependent.
  3. Hierarchy is something that exists and is accepted.
  4. Superiors/Subordinates are different to me
  5. Power is a basic fact of society which is independent of morality. It is there to be used - legitimacy is irrelevant
  6. Power gives priviledges.
  7. Powerful people try to look as powerful as possible. (pomp + ceremony)
  8. Coercion and referent power are accepted
  9. If something goes wrong - it's the underdog fault.
  10. To change the social system, dethrone those in power (revolution)
  11. Everyone wants your power - don't trust them.
  12. Latent conflict between powerful-powerless.
  13. Co-operation is hard due to lack of trust.
Which means organizational compliance and not innovation becomes a bigger requirement for the company that anything else. One classic example is one manager of research division in a well known MNC in its Indian operations wanted all his employees spend 12 hours in the office as there was some delivery team which had a project delivery in a month's time and this would mean research team is showing solidarity to the company's cause. In anyway he was never seen in office after 5:00pm. In another Indian organization the owner of the organization wanted all his employees to work 11 hours or more in the company while he took substantial golf and gym breaks. Why is this power distance appearing? Here are some cited reasons:

High Power Distance

  1. Tropical and sub-tropical climates
  2. Survival and population growth just less dependent on intervention with nature (food is easy to get...)
  3. Less reliance on technology
  4. Historical: Early legislation not applied to rulers, Divided inheritance.
  5. Less need for education of "lower classes"
  6. Less social mobility, polarised society (rich - poor)
  7. Less _national_ wealth.
  8. Wealth concentrated in the hands of a small "elite"
  9. Political power is concentrated in a small "elite" (military, oligarchy, etc)
  10. Large population - little resistance to mass "integration"
  11. Historical: Occupation, colonization, imperialism.
  12. Centralization of Political power.
  13. More static societies
  14. Children dependent on Parents and elders
  15. Less questioning of Authority in General.
As can be seen in the Indian context the power distance is so high that for a rational organization operation it is no way that there can be two separate power centers for both outward and inward looking roles.

What is the Solution?

I personally believe that the western management principles for research organizations does not really apply to India. There is a need to structure it differently than following the standard architect (tech lead) and manager model. Here are some basic changes that can be brought in:

  • Empower employees with more freedom to decide and also manage interpersonal issues.
  • Address personal issues early so that it does not get to dysfunctional proportions that leads to management spending too much time in setting that right.
  • Inculcate technology knowledge in managers. Make them thorough practitioners. If the step 1 and 2 are taken care of managers will have more time to develop themselves.
  • Remove the Human Resources belief that technology can be inorganically acquired while management is to be developed in the organization itself. Ideally, both can be acquired and developed depending on the situation. TISCO hired its VP, Projects Mr. R. P. Singh few years before he was retiring and not promoted someone within TISCO. The change the Mr. R. P. Singh brought into the organization is of course all very well known.
  • Project Management is all about people management. Sorry, project management is about projects. In software the KSF driver being people project management tends to be wrongly named as people management. The best way to manage really talented, motivated people is by giving them a freehand. I guess if you want to be great companies who hire the best people why is this simple management practice is not in operation. To build a "Skunk Works" or "3M" is not to monitor every employee but to empower them.

  • I will be interested to know your views on this.