Friday, September 4, 2015

A matter of words and context!

Adesh Srivastava, the Hindi film composer and singer, passed away on 5th September 2015, a day after he turned 50! May his soul rest in peace!

It is such a coincidence that just a few days ago, I was made to watch a video in which Adesh Srivastava was present! Why I was made to watch that video, is quite interesting!

Our development team was preparing for the demonstration of one the systems to a new group of users. At the end of the preparation, one of the programmer was requesting me to be present during the system demonstration. He said it would give them confidence to do a good presentation. I replied that they have become experts on the system, hence, there was no need for my presence.

One of the programmers, said “we want you to be there so that you can give us ‘history’ after the presentation”. I could not quite understand what he was trying to convey. The other team members stared with puzzled looks as well. We thought that, he was having difficulty in using the right terminology, may be getting confused with some other word!

To make us understand what he was talking about, he started playing a video on YouTube. It was a video of an Omani singer, Asma Mohammed Rafi, who was one of the participants in one of the seasons of SaReGaMaPa TV musical show. I remembered that season, it was one of the most entertaining of seasons, more so because of the Omani singer! But I was quite flabbergasted why the programmer was showing us that video. What was the connection between a system presentation and a musical show! He looked at our confused faces and said, “Wait, wait, it will come”.

At the end of the song, the judges started giving grades for the song rendition. Adesh Srivastava, one of the judges, was the first to judge and he gave “History” grade, the highest grade.  At that moment it dawned on me what the programmer was trying to convey! He wanted me to be present during the system demonstration and give my assessment of their presentation. I started laughing at the whole thing!

The programmer was right in what he was trying to convey but it did not make sense to me until he showed the video. The word “history” has its many standard meanings as we know, but in that season of SaReGaMaPa, “History” was one of the grades for judging the songs, others being “Hit” and “Superhit”.

It just goes to show, that it is not just the words that are important, but also the context which is more important! Because, sometimes a word spoken out of context, could convey entirely a different meaning and could even create utter confusion and chaos, sometimes even misery!

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Friday, May 22, 2015

The power of saying "NO"!

In 1909, Harry Gordon Selfridge came up with the phrase “The customer is always right” as a business strategy to attract and please his customers. Which translates into saying "YES" to whatever the customer wants. Unfortunately that strategy does not always work.

Sometimes, you have to say "NO". There is more power in saying "NO"!
Sometimes we come across people who are impossible to deal with. They make all sorts of unreasonable demands and suggestions based on misdirected assumptions and most of the time, due to ignorance and even arrogance due to their positions. I have come across several such people in my professional experience.
Some clients are so unreasonable and bull headed, that no amount of convincing and arguing helps. It is absolutely useless to even try to convince them. Whatever you try, it only ends up in utter waste of time. To such clients, it is better to simply say a big “no” or even to say “take a hike” or “go fly a kite”!
During implementing a system, the management of our client had appointed a Senior IT Person for coordinating the project. During initial stages of the project itself I was quite apprehensive on the success of the project because of this person’s obnoxious behavior. Fortunately for us, he was sent to UK on a course. This was indeed very good news for us, a blessing in disguise.
A younger person was appointed in his place who had recently graduated in IT.  I realized that the Young Man was thirsting for knowledge and experience, and that was a good sign. He was full of excitement and had a very pleasing attitude. He organized the user meetings smoothly and even acted as a translator when we had to deal with some users who were not comfortable with English language. Everything went on smoothly. The system was developed according to plan and it was ready for User Acceptance Testing.
Unfortunately for us, the Senior IT Person had returned from the course.  The Young Man had to transfer his duties back to the Senior IT Person and that was not good for us. This time, not withstanding his obnoxious attitude, he was full of “UK returned” attitude. We handed over the system for user acceptance testing along with documentation with step by step procedures on system setup and testing conditions based on agreed test samples.
For several days nothing happened. When I asked why the testing had not started, the Senior IT Person looked at me with that “fresh UK returned” arrogance and said “Why should we go through all these lengthy procedures? With a click of button the system should give us results!”. I paused for few moments trying to compose myself and then I asked him, “You are a computer science graduate, have you heard of GIGO?”. He had never heard of it. He simply retorted “What is it?”. I said “It means ‘garbage in, garbage out’. If you enter garbage, the system will give you garbage. Since you do not even want to enter anything, the system will give you nothing, not even garbage”. With that I walked out, with the Senior IT Person red in the face.
He made a big issue out of it. We did not know what he had told the management, but they were pretty upset. An emergency meeting was scheduled. When we entered the meeting hall, the place looked quite tense. It turned out that the Senior IT Person had misled the management into thinking that we wanted to run away without completing the project. I quietly explained to the management everything that had transpired. The manager was quite embarrassed, but he was graceful enough to apologize for the unfortunate incidence. He immediately took the Senior IT Person off the project and replaced him with the Young Man . From then on, things went on smoothly. We handed over the project few weeks earlier than promised.
In the beginning of the project, the manager had said that if we finished project on time he would reward me. I thought he was just joking. But he surprised me with a gift. It was Christmas time when we finished the project. He gave me an envelope saying, “this is your Christmas gift”. Inside the envelope was a job offer! I was over the moon, for it was a very substantial offer! Unfortunately it did not work out, as someone else made a job offer with working conditions exactly to my liking.
I am sure lots of people come across such impossible situations in their day to day professional life, one way or another.
One day during the time when we were learning swimming, I saw a man walking towards the swimming pool with his wife and two teenage daughters. He was beckoning to the swimming coach. After talking to them in whispers, I noticed the swimming coach becoming quite angry and upset. As he swam back towards us, he was cursing and muttering under his breath. When I inquired what the problem was, he said the man wanted him to teach his daughters swimming without touching them. He also put the condition that the girls would wear their arm length regular dresses, not the swimming costumes. The swimming coach simply told him to go find some other coach!
Sometimes diplomacy may work, but not always. Most often, being brutally straight forward saves lot of grief. I have seen many people, mostly marketing and sales guys, making unrealistic promises just to get business. They may not even know the nitty-gritty of the technical aspects of the project, anyway they go ahead and make the tall promises. Most of the time these projects end up in failure and financial losses. I have seen quite many people fall from grace as victims of such mistakes.
More than saying “yes” one has to learn how to say “no” for, "customer is not always right". It will certainly save you from lots of grief and financial losses!

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