Thursday, July 31, 2014

Technology Innovation and Startups

This post is contributed by Tom Thomas
A startup company based on innovative technologies spends considerably on innovation and product development. Entrepreneurship is a driver for technological innovation. Given below are some tips on bringing together the technical and commercial worlds for financial success.

Commercial Feasibility
Any new technology should prove the technical and commercial feasibility to be successful. Identify the core physical constraints underlying the previous technologies that are getting replaced by the new invention and assess the significance. Also, identify the constraints inherent in the new innovation. The difference of these two should provide a qualitative technical balance, making the innovation more meaningful to the user.
Similarly analyze the potential changes in the existing business that will be brought about by the innovation. Compare that with the cost of new business operations required for the adoption of the new technology. This gives the qualitative business balance resulting from the new invention.

Seek the Need
Perceive the opportunities based on emerging market need where the new technology can fit in. Analyze whether the product incorporating the new technology provides enhanced effectiveness in the market place.

Assessment of the market Opportunity
Follow a data-driven approach to assess the market opportunity. For successful productization, the new technology has to be analyzed using architectural designs, working models and prototypes and engagement with potential customers and partners. Analyze the changes which must be made to the innovation to create the end product.

Target small first, then big
Do not try to target large or wide business opportunities from the beginning. This can bloat the focus and strategy. Identify and define the first major market opportunity. It will give a clear target for technology and product development in the short-to-medium term. It should be sufficiently large to provide the foundation for long-term development. With the lack of this type of focus, there will be a number of options, resulting in longer project time and the intended market will keep shifting.

Adoption of new Technology
Aim at satisfying the pragmatic customers to establish a strong foundation in the market. Identifying the first major market is thus strategically critical. The adoption will be more effective when the business and technical balance is perceived high in value by the customers. Minimal behavioural change requirements and minimal perceived loss to achieve the gains offered by the new technology and product will help in faster adoption.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Karma and Enterprise

This post is contributed by Manjeet Singh Nagi

I applied for a 3G dongle connection from one of the service providers a few years back. I made the payment in advance. Their executive visited my office but could not install the requisite software on my machine. He left promising to refund the money. It has been 3 years since then. I visited their showrooms, called their call centers, logged requests on their website, registered my grievances in consumer grievances forum but to no avail. I received calls once in a while from them stating that they would soon refund my money but they never did. I finally gave up.

A few months back I received a mail from them thanking me to avail the 3G connection with them. I continued to receive bills for a few months from them on my email. After a few months I informed them that I never took the connection and probably one of their (ex)-employees fleeced them using the application I submitted a few years. They responded, only after I refused to pay bills for a few months, that I would not get those reminders. Though they never bothered to pay a heed to my original grievance again is a matter to discuss some other time.

But I was happy that fate finally made them pay for their mistakes. Their karma finally caught up with them. That made me think - Do corporates also reap fruits of their karma? Is the concept of karma even applicable to corporates just like us the mortal? Probably yes.

Enterprises/Corporates are much like human beings. Their actions also set a chain of karma which will impact them, sometimes in ways that we cannot even establish the causality. Their actions(or karmas) will draw employees, partners, suppliers,clients, VC etc who all will have similar actions/intents/past(i.e. similar karma).It becomes a complex web of all of their karmas which defines the future of the enterprise and eventually its destiny.

I think karma is much more subtler and much more all-pervading than the vision, goal, strategic intent of organization. All these can be changed with time. But the cycle of karma once initiated with the initial thought/concept of the organization can not be changed. It is this initial thought which will define all the future actions or karma of the enterprise and eventually its destiny. A ponzi scheme set up with the objective of fleecing people of their money will draw only similar greedy investors who will make the scheme blow off.

So all the entrepreneurs planning to set up their enterprise should keep in mind to set up the enterprise with a thought/objective much bigger than just money making. It is this initial thought about their enterprise that would define the karma of their enterprise and would draw employees, suppliers, VCs, investors, bankers of similar karma to them. The positive complex web of karma all of them would uplift their enterprise.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Mobile and retail

This post is contributed by Manjeet Singh Nagi

A few days back I had to renew my health insurance policy with one of the big insurance companies in India. The company’s call center executives were after me to renew the policy. Every time I told them that I would renew and requested them not to bug me but they would not relent. Finally on the dooms day I entered the URL of the company on my cell phone and boom! All that their mobile website shows is a form for one to enter one’s contact details so that the company’s call center can call you back! Though it gives the user an option to browse a desktop version but who wants to keep on zooming and panning on a desktop site from mobile!

So much for the mobile strategy from the companies in India where the number of people accessing web from mobile has already surpassed those accessing from desktop. We are in an age and country where everyone blahblahs about how people would access internet only from mobile soon. And our companies still do not have a good strategy on mobile.

Let me go back to the case of the insurance company. Their mobile website is really from stone-age. Their website is equivalent of how companies had their desktop website in early phases of web 1.0( late 90s).

Going mobile or having a mobile strategy for companies should really mean
1. rethinking their business processes,
2. identifying a smaller of existing use cases that should go mobile,
3. identifying new use cases keeping mobile in mind,
4. making tasks easier for the user

The insurance company’s mobile strategy loses on the last criteria sorely. I agree that when a person buys an insurance policy he does a lot of research and mobile is not really an ideal platform for it. So company does not need to have a mobile strategy at this stage of purchase cycle.

But at the time of policy renewal, the customer is probably not going to do any research.The customer has already crossed all the stages of the buying cycle. He is in the last stage of buying cycle of post purchase behaviour. The relationship between the company and the customer is already established. All the user needs is a website to enter the policy number and make the payment. In today’s busy life a user would want to do such tasks definitely on the go.

If the company does not make it easier for a user to renew the policy on the go it is giving the user another chance to rethink about their choice(of the insurance provider) at the time of renewal. The customer may jump to an earlier stage of buying cycle. He may re-evaluate all the alternatives.  The easier a company makes it for a user to renew the lesser are the chance of it losing the customer. Its easier to make call center executives ten calls to a customer but it take innovating thinking to actually enable the customer to renew quickly! The company definitely selected an incorrect use case for their mobile strategy(criteria #2 above) which failed in making life easier for user(criteria#4).

Though the example is from insurance domain the lesson is for all the retailers. The companies really need to think their mobile strategy from scratch. They need to make life easier for customer to ensure they do not lose them. And think cross-platform purchase. Not many customers complete all the stages of purchase cycle on web. But enabling some of the stages of purchase cycle on mobile is definitely going to help the retailers.

Will be back with more!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Designing a Performance appraisal system for startups that works Part-3

Designing a Performance appraisal system for startups that works Part-1

For details on each sub-topic, please read here

Most Serious Performance Appraisal Problems

1. Don’t assess actual performance
2. Infrequent feedback
3. Non-data-based assessment
4. Lack of effectiveness metrics
5.  Lack of accountability

Process related problems

6. Disconnected from rewards
7. No integration
8. Individual scores exceed team performance
9. Each year stands alone
10. No comprehensive team assessment
11. A focus on the squeaky wheel
12. Little legal support
13. No second review
14. Not reliable or valid
15. Cross-comparisons are not required
16. Assessments are kept secret
17. Process manager is not powerful
18. No process goals
19. Not global
20. Forced ranking issues
21. No ROI calculation

Instrument (form) problems

22. Doesn’t address diversity
23. The process does not flex with the business
24. The factors are all equal
25. Inconsistent ratings on the same form
26. Disconnected from job descriptions

Manager/execution problems

27. Managers are not trained
28. Managers are “chickens”
29. Gaming the system
30. Recency errors
31. Corporate culture issues
32. Inconsistency across managers
33. Managers don’t know the employee
34. Secret codes
35. Mirror assessments
36. Managers are not rewarded
37. Managers don’t own it

Employee/subject problems

38. High anxiety
39. One-way communication
40. Self-assessment is not possible
41. No alerts
42. No choice of reviewers
43. One-way process
44. No appeal process
45. Retention issues
46. Many possible emotional consequences

Timing issues

47. A time-consuming process
48. It is historical
49. Not coordinated with business cycles
50. Not simultaneous

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Designing a Performance appraisal system for startups that works Part-2

Problem part-1

In many of companies, before the appraisal process starts, there is flurry of activities starts, managers are sending mails to their reportees on slightest of pretext in order to look more sincere and hands-on, technical managers are preparing training materials and providing training to all the engineers and engineers attending them but is it adding any value to the company? I think, NO. Actually, this activeness harms the organisation more than it helps.
Another issue which is worth pondering is, more often than not, productivity of team is less than sum total of productivity of all its team members. It can’t be as every team in organisation possesses organisation capital and intellectual properties which is accumulated overtime.

To understand this thing called annual appraisal process, we need to understand the cognitive biases that have crept in the process:

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Designing a Performance appraisal system for startups that works Part-1


Yesterday when Anand was about to leave office, his manager Srinivas came to his seat.

Srinivas: Hey Anand, tomorrow is last day for submitting your annual appraisal form. can we meet tomorrow afternoon?

Anand: ya, sure.

Srinivas(taking a deep breath):  tomorrow is too hectic. I have to finish all the appraisal work, 7 in all and I need to send monthly progress report to customer also.

Anand:  what!! how can you judge 1 year of performance of 7 engineers in less than 2 hrs!!

Srinivas: but we have to close it tomorrow, man. That is hard deadline.

Anand(sighs): ok, we will meet tomorrow then.

Srinivas leaves.

In most of the companies, Annual appraisal process has become a ritual and instead of improving the performance or measuring it, it does the opposite.

So, what are the problems in current annual appraisal process. There is tons of them. Read it here.

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