Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Working with your ex-boss

With the industry maturing, everyone realizes the world is fairly well connected. There are lots of people you have worked in the past whom you meet in newer settings. One standard request I hear from people is their ex-boss has set up a new office and asking them to join. Everyone in life has gone through these requests several times in life but how does one judge the right opportunity from the other ones. Here are some of the characteristics of relationships one should assess before jumping on to taking decision.

Excitement of Being Important

Some people may feel excited that their ex-boss thinks them as very important person hence you are being considered for the new job. Some cases this may be true but probably not all that true if you know how to discuss or judge your ex-boss. Here are some of specific pointers to know before getting all excited about these opportunities.
  1. Know your strengths vs.  weaknesses - Although, most people get hired by their strengths some by their weaknesses as well. Interestingly, when people have some natural strengths in certain areas in most discussions their knowledge in that area gets exploited and you are put in the silos of being the person good in those departments only. Thus you do not get to expand the role where you will like to explore for yourself. In your discussion be careful if you are being exploited in a discussion on those. If you are good in technology and management skills the interviewer may focus only in technology discussion so that she can convince in you believing that you are only suited for a technologist as a career.
  2. Look at the inner circle hiring - Look carefully at the people who have been hired by your ex-boss. Are they the same set of people who have been hired by him earlier? Do you have a similar relationship as they have with him? If not there is no need for you to feel very important. You are the cheapest search cost employee for him.
  3. Career Level Movement of yours vs. your ex-boss - Another important factor to know is the career levels you have made vs. your manager has got in his career. In terms of a non-standard metric it's likely that both of you may have been through a different level of career movement based on how you have transitioned. Be aware of all those before you meet for the discussion.
  4. Be respectful but deterministic with a viewpoint - Have a viewpoint on all your career decision. Many people feel they did not want to make their ex-boss unhappy and respect the relationship and in doing so felt in the receiving end of the discussion.
Interviewing your ex-Boss

Your ex-boss is not your boss yet. Hence you need to know that you have every right to evaluate him as much as he is evaluating you only being a bit discrete. Here are some of the tips of interviewing your boss.

  1. Listen carefully - One of the standard discussions in life when you talk to someone who is at high places is there will be a reference to times when you left him and how the world had changed after your left and how the whole of the company reached moon. Just validate those with what you have read or known about the company from the press. Even if your ex-boss says we did great when you know the company balance sheet shows otherwise then there is little to believe. There is definite point in his justifying your come back but at the same time it's important to know how matured the discussion is.
  2. Let him speak on cause of your departure - Most manager will impress upon their employees on their cause of departure no more is relevant. But assess the cause with the real reason of departure. Put forth your real reason of departure and assess his understanding (acceptance and rejection of the cause).
  3. Appreciate a person or situation which he may not be agreement with - This is more like a viewpoint sharing session where you put forth your thoughts and try to see how much of value your ex-boss is giving to your understanding. And how is he deviating or reasonably justifying his negative viewpoint.
All these can give you a fair idea of his understanding of you as a person and your viewpoints. In no appraisal can you get direct feedback that can give you such insight. Most importantly be respectful, draw your limits and boundaries and deal at arms length.

Roles and Responsibility

It may have been sometime since you have interacted with your ex-boss. Your organization skills, dealings and organizational learning may have changed substantially over the period of time. Be focused in understanding if he is valuing those additional acquired skills. Observe of he is hiring you or a person of same years of experience as you have for a function you are undertaking. If it's the second kind there is definitely no value pursuing further considering your current role covers most of it. Unless your ex-boss sees more in you than your current role it's probably not worth pursuing further.

More over when you hire a person you know you are hiring for 1.5 persons. One for the role he is hired for and half of the role he had executed earlier of value. But if you are getting hired only for your current experience there is definitely nothing unique your ex-boss is looking beyond regular transactional work. When you are sure you are not getting evaluated for the person but for a specific role there are aspects which you can discuss that definitely can make you radically different than their mindset. After all you will like to be remembered as a person who is good but radically different that does no harm to your overall person.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Tryst with the Cars

I am not a car enthusiast as such but in last couple of months I spent in test driving a couple to check out which probably is a right car for me. keeping my budgets in mind decided to focus on the premium hatchback segment. Interestingly, there is never a perfect car as there is nothing in the world in a philosophical note. Typically, you judge a car from its driving performance (not economy although that's an important factor as well with rising gas prices) and styling. In the premium hatchback segment there is just no perfect match.

Here is how my experience has been.

1. Maruti Ritz and Swift - Excellent drive machines. You can virtually overtake anyone at any speed. It's a real killer machine when it comes to acceleration. But looks are not so attractive. Both from an interior and exterior as well. To me it has a more of a UFO look than a car look. Sorry do not mean to hurt anyone who feels very affiliated to this car but just a personal opinion.

2. Honda Jazz - Just priced 2 lakhs over and above on nearest competition. Makes you wonder is it worth paying that extra vs. buying a City and drive home the comfort of a sedan.

3. Skoda Fabia - If you want a car to drive this is probably the machine. From gear ratios to engine performance to pick up this is by far the most appealing drive you will ever get. But you hear the prices of parts and service experience in the internet it makes you feel to think twice.

4. Volkswagen Polo - Class A machine from a driving comfort as well as from internal styling perspective. But someone who is buying a car in the premium car segment assumes in the lowest segment of the car also you should have the same color options as in the higher models. The mid-model for the car is zero value add with just a bunch of color choices unless you are a person who thinks white and red are cool colors. 3 months waiting period for the car is another big no. No one knows how the service availability will be.

5. Fiat Punto - I think the car is a loser in the premium hatchback segment. It's not because the car is bad but it's how it's marketed. You cannot sell a premium hatchback in the same car showroom with the cheapest car on earth. It's rather hilarious to see the Fiat Punto test drive request was honored after 2 months of placing the request. I was too bored to even to take look at the car. Interiors look too traditional plastic like.

6. Hyundai i20 - Again another bargain between performance vs. looks and looks wins. The car beats everyone in looks. Ultra comfortable to drive to the extent that some say you may fall asleep on a highway if you are not careful. Not even you the engine sleeps as well. The car gets noise after the rev numbers cross 3500. But the engine gives power and torque in the higher rpms. The car is almost soundproof and completely noiseless. To the extent that you may wonder at times if the engine is not running. Switch on the AC the car cools pretty rapidly but you engine pick up will be dead.

What is the final verdict? Very much like management literature. It depends on personal preference. My approach is you won't get everything. Just know what you are missing when you chose one over the other.

Another part I never understood was the premium hatchback with no stereo, body color handle, power window for back or central keyless door locking. Is it not expected that in a premium car it's all kind of given? It surprises me when companies come with all these features and launch these as significant addons with a mid model and a higher model. When I saw i20 Magna I felt Hyundai was probably smart and giving just enough for a comfortable car. They have diluted real bad with launch of Era in the i20 segment. Of course the Volkswagen Polo entry model another funny thing with just two colors. Overall the car manufactures have given a car in the premium hatchback in such a way a person needs to aspire for a high-end sedan ahead.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Successful Product Management

The product management is a new entity in most Indian IT companies. As product management roles are getting created there is enough confusion in at the organizations to define the product management function. The other day I sat through a workshop on product management conducted by NASSCOM to discuss the same issue among a couple of business heads of various organizations. Shockingly the discussion was heading nowhere. Rightly, expected though... I am expressing my views on product management and why I feel it is designed to be challenging for Indian IT industry at large.

Product Management is a Business Role

The first and more most thing a product manager will find it challenging in India is everyone else knows what she needs to do other than she herself :-(. The organizational roles can be seen into two different classes - functional and business roles. The functional roles are defined on what a person needs to make it a success in his / her scope of activities. For example, the developers need to write code, testers should test it so that the quality objectives are to be met. But business roles are different. Business roles are aspects where the outcome is known but the means. Lets ask a simple question, what is the CEOs role in an organization. I will be very surprised if CEOs success formula can be written in functional 10 points. Rather the CEOs objectives are written on a business outcome basis. Similarly, a product manager is a mini-CEO for her product. The product success in its defined vision and goals is the single metric for a product manager success. Does your organization understand this concept? If not I guess it's not worth investing in product management as such.

Who should Product Management Report to?

This is typical of cost center oriented management in Indian IT industry is constantly struggling with this. In a production line it's natural the information has to flow down from a manager to the reportee. However, in a matrix structure like Product Management it's natural to have an entry level Product Manager have more business information than an engineering head. At some level in Indian IT industry is struggling in accepting these facts. Interestingly, customer and revenue information is expected for Product Management to be aware of but functional management positions need not be aware of such information. Some organizations in the Indian IT industry is not comfortable sharing these information with the product management function as the managers who they report to in the organizations are not party to such information. Ideally Product Management should functionally report to a business role and not to a functional manager to avoid such influences.

Should Product Management be there where the Customer is?

There was a time in production industry the belief was that the production base must be set up where raw material is to reduce material handling costs. Today the production centers are there where the cheapest labor is and not the raw material. Product Management is a decision making function. In today's fast communication world the decision making function can be anywhere where there is availability of business decision makers. Collection of customer intelligence can be a proxy operation. Conducting market research or direct interaction with the customer are not the only means to gather intelligence. Done effectively a network can be set up which can gather functional needs of the customers and provide inroads to customer expectations. When consumer product firms set up operations in countries like India and China, they need not have to set up large decision making units in these countries but hired mostly staff to run operations.

Overall, for product management to be successful in Indian IT industries the organizations have to bring in a bit of profit center orientation. Without that thought process the organizations will define a functional role like: Systems Analyst, Business Analyst, Technical Evangelist for a product manager.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Captive Product Pricing

I never knew my earlier posting on pricing will generate so much in interest from people I know or from people who have crossed my blog just as a passing interest. However, one good example I found interesting in those discussion was Captive Product Pricing. Is captive product pricing separate pricing principle or should follow the same 3 product pricing paradigm we just discussed earlier:

1. Cost based pricing
2. Value based pricing
3. Competition based pricing

To my understanding of pricing theory the pricing paradigms I talked about are fundamental principles on which every known pricing strategy should be evaluated against. No pricing model can challenge or alter these building blocks of pricing.

Lets look at the Captive Product Pricing as an example. Captive product pricing is done for a captive market where the market is fairly narrow and choice is limited to the extent of a monopoly. Some examples of these are razor blades, tyres for automobiles or cartridges for printers. And best one all of you Satellite TV customers must be facing in India on subscription pricing for various TV channels.

Couple of things to note here is who is defining the larger market. Is the captive product a standards based product (to the extent of being a commodity) or a specific supply to a product. Example can be single razor blades are standardized and you will not need to buy a razor from Gillette to use a Gillette blade. However, you may need a Mach 4 razor from Gillette to use a Mach 4 blade.

How does one price in such situations?

Well one can always lure the customer with bundling offers to make sure she gets into buying a package deal of the razor with some free blades, but charge a huge premium on the blades alone as replacement part. The strategy Gillette always employs for its innovative patent protected blades or HP for the costly cartridges  for cheap inkjet printers. When it comes to competitive pricing comparisons sales people do these smarts as an example:

You can buy an HP printer but cartridge will be so expensive that you may be better of buying a Canon printer but the cartridge will be cheaper and in the long run you will be paying a lot less as an example.

or may be the other way round

The savings you make in cartridge will not be  sufficient to recover the cost of the savings you make in the printer. Because in some sense in the life time of the printer you will hardly use 3 cartridges and that will not be enough saving for you anyway. So why not buy a cheaper printer and save on the initial cost. And if you buy a maintenance contract for printing 100,000 sheets of paper cartridges and printers will be free from us with necessary upgrades as necessary. 

The hard thing for the seller always to keep in mind is in no circumstance a customer will plan pay a price beyond the lifetime value of what she is paying for the service or an crude estimate for the same is the basis is time based like an ARPU used in the telecom industry. If I spend Rs. 2000/- in talking over the cellphone I will try to keep my cell phone bill to that level every month as much as possible. By creating a price bundling you are trying to make it Rs. 3000/- even if you provided me a free blackberry and thus show me a lot of saving it's very unlikely I will value that free blackberry long enough. But it may still be a deterrence for me to switch as I will cease to keep my phone and thus lose all the private data I have on the mobile handset. Over a period of time as a customer my demand for more talk time will be there but I will still not like to pay more than Rs. 2000/- for it. And while pricing in the captive market this is a significant point and that is when people think of switching.

How does a buyer do in such situations?

If you are purchasing tech products or products where complexity is high and difficult in comparison I will suggest to keep 2 metrics in mind before you get into a captive product purchase scenario.

1. Total Cost of Ownership
2. Switching cost

TCO estimation will give a good understanding on where you stand on comparison with the other products in the market. Keeping a guard on switching cost will help you keep your options open for subsequent switch. While these are well known concepts for the B2B markets the B2C markets is where customers get beaten pretty badly. And particularly, when the market is in early phase of development.

Lets talk about the satellite TV market. The equipment prices are almost free in most cases or there is significant competition to keep it low. But every time there is a new channel that comes up satellite TV companies find innovative means of pricing those so that people keep buying additional packages or what in the scheme is called top up plans.

Similarly, cell phones market was fairly in the same situation and it'll be completely cease to exist once we get number portability in India. Although economic switching cost in cell phone is fairly low the inconvenience in changing the numbers is fairly hard. However, multi-SIM phones are a good options to address some of the woos there but not a complete solution though.