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.