Sunday, July 4, 2010

Constant Course Correction Crucial For Success By Madhu Yarlagadda

Constant Course Correction Crucial For Success:

Businesses develop products to satisfy market / human needs. Attaining commercial success is crucial for business to thrive and constant course correction is crucial for success. We live in a dynamic world where everything around is evolving, the target markets are evolving, the target opportunity is evolving, the technologies one employ to find solutions are evolving and the human needs are evolving. The teams that do not course correct often find that they have missed the target by a long short and hence will never attain as large of commercial success compared to those who course correct often.

Constant course correction does not mean you keep changing the target all the time, resulting in change of course. If this happens one will never attain success because they are constantly changing and will never produce an impactful product because they could not lock on to a target. Constant course correction is a way to overcome inertia. Inertia is the single most leading cause for failure or death of great ideas even before they get started. Lack of clarity generally results in inertia. Teams and individuals hesitate to get started because they don’t have answers to all their questions. However, successful companies and projects get started because they greatly believe in the general direction and then they refine i.e. course correct to attain success.

Once you believe in general direction get started. Take massive action and get off the ground. As you attain more clarity, use your new learning and information to your advantage by constantly course correcting. This will result in two things,

1. You attained enough information that proves to you that your general direction is false. Then cut bait, stop, end your mission, conserve your left over resources and put them to best use on a different project. Capture your learning, learn from the experience and use it to your advantage in your next mission.

2. You attain greater conviction that your general direction is the right direction and your target is a valid target. Use your learning to course correct and attain end goal i.e. Big Bang Commercial success. Yahoo!!! Eureka !!! Yahoo !!!

Just like a guided missile that has locked on to a moving target needs to make constant course correction till it reaches the target. In a similar manner for a company or a project to succeed it has to make constant course correction to reach it’s target and attain commercial success.

Critical elements for Constant Course Correction:

1. Get Off The Ground:

The most essential element for success is to get started. To get started never wait for a perfect movement where you have all the answers but instead get started in a general direction based on your convection. The events you encounter in your journey will either strengthen your conviction or weaken it. During the course of the journey it is important to be true to oneself and see things as they are and not overly sugar coated nor to view them to be grim than they are. So, Get Started. Awake and arise and get started on the course you have most conviction.

2. Speed:

Second most important aspect after you get started is Speed. Speed of execution, speed of planning, speed of decision making and speed overall. Speed will give you un-due advantage compared to your competition because it make you learn your lessons faster, allows you to fail faster and rise back from the fall faster. Eventually speed allows you to reach your destination and create mind share.

Being first always has a special place in every profession. It gains mind share and free publicity. It shows the world you are special.

Various processes like six sigma that insist on quality, agile development practices in computer software industry or test based coding practices are all aimed at improving speed. It is not the process that is important but attaining speed and making sure the overhead is minimized is critical for business success. The ultimate intent of any of this process is to free the team, lessen the burden on the team and increase their changes of attaining success.

Web has changed the way software is developed and deployed. Gone are days where projects take years to complete. Gone are days where ideas take years to get prototyped. Welcome to the new order of web world of Speedy development and deployment where project is broken up into nibble size features that are developed, tested and pushed to production several times a week and in some cases several times a day. The size of these code segments could vary from project to project, however the most important aspect is to have a software architecture that allows such mode of development and deployment.

3. Dashboard:

Final component for constant course correction is a dashboard that shows how the project or product or the company is performing. The dashboard should be near real-time with ability to show historic view. The metrics reflected by this dashboard will never lie, however one needs to have the courage to see these metrics as they are. No worse and no better. Then go back to step #1 i.e. get started where you can analyze the dashboard and make required course correction and get started on this new path.

Facebook Story:

Facebook was founded by Mark Zuckerberg with his college roommates and fellow computer science students. When Mark was attending school at Harvard, the school did not have a student directory with photos and basic information and the web site he created meet student need. It generated 450 visitors and 22,000 photo views in its first four hours. The website’s membership was initially limited to Harvard students. Over time it expanded to other colleges in the Boston area, the Ivy League, Stanford University, all university students, all high school students and finally to any one aged 13 and over. The website currently has more than 400 million active users worldwide.

It was important for Mark and his friends to take first step, make mistakes and not wait for answers to all the questions. It was even more important for them to continuously correct the course at an exponentially accelerated pace to attain success as outlined by time line below.

- February 4, 2004, Zuckerberg launched “The Facebook”. Membership was initially restricted to students of Harvard College, and within the first month, more than half the undergraduate students registered on the service.

- March 2004, Facebook expanded to Stanford, Columbia and Yale.

- Expansion continued as it allowed all Ivy League and Boston area schools, and gradually most universities in Canada and the United States.

- Facebook incorporated in the summer of 2004.

- June 2004, Facebook moved its base of operations to Palo Alto, California.

- The company dropped “The” from its name after purchasing the domain name in 2005 for $200,000.

- Facebook launched high school version in September 2005.

- Facebook later expanded membership eligibility to employees of several companies, including Apple Inc, Microsoft.

- Facebook was then opened on September 26, 2006 to everyone over thirteen with a valid email address.

- In October 2008, Facebook announced that it will set up its international headquarters in Dublin, Ireland.

- Facebook experiment failed at few efforts but succeeded at those that matter the most, helping it to attain 400+ million users as I write this blog.

Facebook success was possible because they did not get bogged by the inertia and did not wait to find answers to every question. Instead they got started. They moved fast and course corrected often to attain great success. They are not yet perfect but perfection is a journey and not a destination. Always address the most important issues at hand and not the most urgent. Every successful start up, project, feature, team, has similar story to share. Success leaves a trail, anyone who as the ability to take these learning’s and incorporate them into their path will attain greater success in their next endeavor.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Introduction : Step By Step


Madhu Yarlagadda

I always wondered why some companies or projects stagnate while others succeed. Why some fail while others perform well. What makes a company stagnate and lose its market edge? What makes a company underperform compared to their competition? What makes a company continue to succeed?

Are there step by step principles a company can follow to sustain it’s edge?

Step By Step is a composition of my thoughts as I pondered these questions and came up with step by step principles. I experimented these over last 20 years and refined them to a point that they always worked and generated positive results.

Smart are those who learn from others experiences and then take them to a whole new level. Building a great team or a company is very similar. Avoid mistake that others made, learn from others experiences and take success to a whole new height.

Step by step are the thoughts of a software engineer who worked in the industry for 20 years. Learnt to manage a company that he started. Became a manager out of necessary but loved every bit of what he did both as an engineer and as a manager. Step by Step are the lesions that he learnt the hard way after making several mistakes.

Step by Step let’s prosper !!!

Step by Step let’s build great teams !!!

Step by Step let’s build great products !!!

Step by Step let’s build great companys !!!

Step by Step let’s make this world a better place !!!

Step by Step every one can make a difference in the world !!!

Team Work :

Team Work & Team Sprit


Madhu Yarlagadda

What constitutes a team?

What qualities should a team exhibit for them to attain success?

Why do some teams fail while others succeed?

The word "team" is overused in corporate world. Just because a group of people works together does not make them a team. A team is more than a group of people working together. To be a real team, there must be a spirit, where each person genuinely cares about his or her teammates’ success. There must be a willingness to bring out the best in others to achieve a common goal.

Simply because a group of people are on the same side or because they are wearing same uniform or because they are playing the same game or because they work together does not constitute a team. Any team where team sprit represents such external factors will lose the game they are playing. If they win it is because they are playing against a team with far more inferior team identify.

A team’s success is largely independent of their external environment or the tangible resources around them – the office, computers, desks, blackberries etc - all of which their competitors possess. Their competitors may even share a very similar product with very similar features. In professional sports, every team is comprised of excellent athletes who have nearly the same equipment and training available to them. So, why do some teams fail while others succeed?

What distinguishes one team from another is the bond that is developed with each other: trust, commitment, inspiration, consideration, attitude, communication, and leadership. Teams that succeed have chemistry and a sense of responsibility and ownership, with members focused not only on doing their own jobs well, but consistently supporting each other to succeed as well. Individual competence and integrity are key to earning team members’ trust.

Time and again you will find illustrations of teams with constrained resources compete with competitors that have vast arsenal of resources and win against odds. The secret for their win is that they have a team that has vastly superior team spirit. This is true both in professional sports as well as in corporate world.

The Microsoft Story:

The Start:

Microsoft Corporation was originally founded in 1975 to develop and sell BASIC interpreters for the Altair 8800. Microsoft rose to dominate the home computer operating system market with MS-DOS in the mid 1980, followed by the Windows line of operating systems. Microsoft achieved it’s original mission of “A computer on every desk and in every home, running Microsoft software”. It achieved the mission by developing software that ultimately became ubiquity in the desk top computer market such as MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office and Visual development studio.

The IPO:

On March 13, 1986 the company went public with an initial public offering (IPO), with a starting initial offering price of $21 and ending at the first day of trading at $27.75. Microsoft two founders Gates and Allen were made instant millionaires and eventually the IPO created four billionaires and an estimated 12,000 Microsoft employee millionaires. Gates owned 45% of the company’s 24.7 million outstanding shares and Allen roughly 25% . Gates stake was 234 million and Microsoft’s total value $520 million.

The Products:

In 1989 Microsoft introduced Microsoft Office that bundled separate office productivity applications such as Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint. On May 22, 1990 Microsoft launched Windows 3.0 and it sold more than 100,000 copies in two weeks. Its products crushed competition that included WordPerfect, Lotus 1-2-3 and more because they were better. Users switched to Microsoft products because they were better and Microsoft made it easier to switch by supporting compatibility short cuts. Before Microsoft products users had to memorize a vast number of key strokes that are mapped to various function keys found on top of the computer key board (F1, F2 …. F12). A user who learned to use WordPerfect short codes could continue to use same key strokes on Word to format the documents this lowered users switching costs.

The Web Era:

In 1995 Microsoft released Windows 95, a new version of the company’s flagship operating system which featured a completely new user interface including the novel start button resulting in sale of more than a million copies in the first four days following the release.

On May 26, 1995 Bill Gate’s sent an internal memo titled “Internet Tidal Wave memo” that propelled Microsoft to expand it’s product into computer networking and World Wide Web. It released its web browser, Internet Explorer (Compting product to Netscape browser) with Windows 95 Plus Pack in August 1995 and subsequent Windows version bundled the browser. On August 24, 1995 it launched MSN as a direct competition to AOL and an umbrella web portal.

In 2001 Microsoft released Windows XP, the first version that combined the features of both its business and home product lines. Before XP, Microsoft had two branches called Windows NT for business customers and Windows 95 / 98 for home users. Windows XP gave increased focus to Microsoft by combining its engineering talent on a single product. XP timing can’t be more right because it was the time where the differences between home and business started to fade away as home computer users became increasingly savvy.

Resources that Microsoft could bring to bear are far greater than their competitors. Some believe that sheer size helped it win against formidable players like word perfect, Lotus 123, Borland, Netscape and more. However, I believe to the contrary. I believe in each of these cases Microsoft had fewer resources but great teams that are focused on a common problem they were passionate about. It is the team spirit that helped them Win.

However, just because Microsoft had access to large amount of resources could not propel the company ahead of Intuit in finance software industry or against Apple in consumer products or against Yahoo! In internet portal business or against Google in Search.

The reason why Microsoft attained success in MS-DOS, Microsoft Windows, Microsoft Office, Microsoft Visual Studio for developers and it’s web browser Internet Explorer is because the teams behind these products were extremely passionate. They passion to solve the problem brought the teams together and created a team sprit that become the force for achieving greatness by creating products that were vastly superior to their competitors.

IBM was much larger than Microsoft but yet Microsoft dominated the PC market. Lotus 1-2-3 and WordPerfect had head start but yet Microsoft office dominated. Even though Microsoft had a late start it still crushed Netscape in the browser war. However, Microsoft outspends Apple by every measure imaginable. In raw dollars, Microsoft outspent Apple ($7.121 billion to $782 million in 2007), a ratio of 9 to 1. Apple spends far, far less money on Research & Development (R&D), but has delivered far far more value over the past few years. Mac OS X Leopard, Intel-based Macs, iPod, iPod Touch, iPhone, new generation MacBook. Apple regularly delivers products and services such as the iTunes Store, iPod, iPhone, iMac that shake up entire industries. In a similar way Microsoft efforts proved futile in trying to dominate the internet portal space largely dominated by Yahoo, financial software space dominated by Intuit and most recently search space dominated by Intuit.

What helped Microsoft compete effectively against much larger companies like IBM or those that had much larger head start like Borland, WordPerfect or Lotus corporation? What prevented it from winning against Yahoo or Intuit or Google?

The answer is not simply the size or resources. But it comes down to team sprit. Any time a company can create a true team sprit it can win against any sector. Better products with deep value win the market in the log run and great team sprit creates such products. It is that simple.

Later sections will focus on ways to improve team sprit step by step.