Working with Germans

Tags

,

I am working for software wing of Siemens, Bangalore for the past 8 years. During this time frame I have travelled 4 times to Germany and have worked in Germany for a year. As a part of the work I have to interact with my counterparts in Germany regularly.

As a regular practice I under went the intercultural training regarding Germany. It was a big eye opener and I learned couple of things while working day to day with the German counterparts.  I will share them here. Since I am an Indian, the points may also reflect to some extent what Indians observe.

Communication

The German communication is mostly straight forward. If something is right they say it as right. If something is wrong they say its wrong. If there is a bad news they say it on the face. For eg if a German is not happy with you for some reason then he would say it directly on the face “I am not happy with the way you are doing this”. Also I have seen that they expect similar kind of communication back. And if someone does the round about communication beating about the bush they get annoyed. Being black and white is always appreciated.

Value of Time

The Germans are known for their punctuality. One thing that I have learned is they value other’s time a lot. If a German arrives late for a meeting the first thing he does is apologize. The next part of it is Germans value their own time a lot. For example if a German wants to work on a particular topic with full focus (undisturbed) he will block his own calendar and mark it as busy. And if the calendar says the time is free then really the German is available. One can send a meeting request. They balance the time needed for personal & professional activities well.

Inexpressive

The German people are mostly inexpressive. This is what the trainer said during the intercultural training. This description is given because most of the time the Germans look too serious and focused. In the office this is a routine one can note. Every morning once a German enters the office he will greet with “Morgan” meaning “Morning” and then starts his work. There is no gossiping, chitchat and in the evening “Tchuss” meaning “Bye”. When I was working in Germany I normally used to hear songs during work (with my earphones on) and sometimes I used to hum the song. Once a colleague of mine complained that it disturbed his attention.

But this description of Germans is not true always. I have seen them angry, depressed, happy, humorous & satirical lot many times. What matters is majority of the time they look serious.

Long term Planning

Germans are known for their meticulous long term planning. This is quite evident from the kind of projects they execute successfully across the globe. They are masters of long long (10+ years) planning. I have seen lot of initiatives when they reached me were planned, started & executed lot many years earlier. They don’t bother about immediate results. They really value long time benefits. That is the reason they plan, start, execute and reap the benefits in the end.

Documentation

The one attribute that I envy most is their ability and commitment towards documenting things. The documentation is not done just for the sake of process. It is done so that tomorrow it helps someone out when the author has moved on. And this shows when a German reads the document. He will read it with full attention (not skimming through) and trust the information. Also whenever some information is required Germans always look for a written document rather than running around people and pestering them.

Individual & Contradiction & Conflict

This is another attribute which I learned by experience. Majority of the Germans like to be individualistic than be part of a group. For example in a meeting when all the participants agree and one German disagree at the end of the meeting, everyone accepts that one among them disagreed. No one forces him to agree to the group. The individual who is disagreeing also never agrees due to peer pressure. Each one of them express ones own opinion.

Slow

At times I have felt that Germans are slow. Because they approach  everything very systematically. Don’t skip unwanted things. They don’t take shortcuts. They also don’t bother to rush through things. This all activities will definitely slow down things. But the outcome in the end is always fruitful.

This is a topic where people write books. A blog post is too short a space for such topic. But I just collected the most important ones that I could get.

Performance Evaluation

This year I am designated as an architect. And I am not responsible to do performance review for the team members. But in the past when I was a manager this used to be a long, tedious and time consuming job(I had 9 team members that time). So I thought this year may be just look back at the last couple of performance reviews. If some of my old team members are reading this blog then they may know which instance I am talking about but the point here is to look at the process as a whole how it happened in the past.

Preparation Phase

As a manager I have to remember all the work done in the past by each team member and also the various key events that happened. If I go unprepared then already it will look like I am not concerned about the team member. Also doing a fair review without preparation is not possible. So here is the list of item that I prepare before going to the meeting

  • The tasks allocated to each team member and how he performed it.
  • Specific instances where the team member helped other team member and the team.
  • Specific instances where the team member had created trouble for the team.
  • The major plus points of the team member.
  • The major minus points of the team member.
  • What is my expectation? What I look forward?
  • How the team member has performed with respect to previous years expectations?
  • If the team member joined in between then take the feedback from the previous manager.

Dialogue

Then comes the real dialogue with the team member. Utmost I used to take 2 team members per day. I find a nice spacious room with good lighting for the dialogue. And before getting into the room I say to myself allow the team member to speak more and allow him to express his point of view. The following are some of the challenges that I faced in the past

Team member comes unprepared for the dialogue

This is the funniest one when I go prepared the team member comes without any preparation and just tries to think over during the dialogue. Or some times the team member will post questions to me regarding what he did all the time? In most of such scenarios my prepared task list helped me a lot. But I have always felt such dialogues are not that constructive. Mostly the team member attends the dialogue with “nothing is going to change” attitude.

Team member comes with lot of paint points

The team member makes a huge list of all the paint points and wants to discuss only those issue. Here the problem is the team member never wants to listen anything that is good that happened to the team member during that time period. The dialogue then becomes each one defending themselves.

Team member do not know what he/she wants

The team member comes to the meeting and says that one is not satisfied with everything. But if asked “what one wants?” then I get a blank face. One of the team member even told me that in a performance review if someone agrees that “one is satisfied with the current state” then such team member will not be compensated well.

Team member assumes lot of things that is not known to him/her

Most of the time when a decision is made regarding a particular person that person is not part of that meeting. Because of this most of the team members will assume and create lot of story/rumors that are baseless. Talking to such team members in a performance review is always hard because even if I knew the truth I cannot expose that in front of that person because I may leak some information that is not meant for him/her. And even if I expose the truth still the team member liked to believe the baseless assumptions because that gives a feeling that the team member is a victim and is suffering.

Team member compares with other team members

The dialogue becomes very complicated once the team member starts to compare himself/herself to another team member. I personally hate doing the comparison and try to avoid such discussions. But there are some team members who wants to compare with others and prove that he/she is better than that compared team member & being paid less. Most of the times in such situations I try to convince the team member that this comparison is not going to take us forward in any way and stop it.

Discussion related to pay packages

The discussion related to pay package and remuneration is the hardest one. The team member brings in lot of assumption but the hard fact may be different. As a manager I cannot reveal this information. But I do the discussion entirely using a imaginary pair of team members and just discuss the issue. By this I avoid comparing 2 real team members. For example if a team member says

“I get lesser salary than person X”

I do the discussion something like this

“Let us assume a person A joined during the year 2005 and person B joined the during 2009, Person A may be getting salary less than B but A gets a yearly retention bonus which is not given to person B”.

It is not possible to avoid this topic in performance review meeting. If I avoid, then the team member feels that I am not concerned regarding the team members growth. In performance review “Money is not the only factor but money is one among the important factor”.

Manager: On becoming a software architect

Tags

,

After spending past couple of years managing a small team of 8, this year I switched over to software architect’s role. I have completed my first 6 months as architect now. I am sharing my experience how the journey is as of now. The following are some of the key things that I noted

Role

The first and foremost question that came to me was “what should I do now?” Should I continue to do the same thing what I am doing or do something different as an architect. The role of an architect was not clear to me and because of that I am not sure where do I stand as an architect.

Expectations

The architects role is mostly given to a senior developer who has proven his design capability in a couple of the modules. I too come with a similar background (imaging and 3d being my area of specialization). But moment I was made an architect the entire team of 30 developers expect me to know the solution to all the development problems. Sometimes when I say I don’t know the direct solution and ask the developer to look into a particular area for solution they look puzzled and feel bad.

No Team

The next major area of discomfort is due to my managerial background. Suddenly I don’t have a direct set of team members to report under me. This has created some kind of void for me. But I have lot of time and feel lot lighter because of this. But I miss the task allocation, tracking and pressure to deliver on time.

Decisions

As an architect I need to make lot of decisions within a short span of time. Developers come with a problem and a couple of solutions. Now it is up to me to choose one among them. I am slowly learning to make informed decisions faster. The thing I lack is to remember the decisions that I took sometime in the past. I need to find a way to document the decisions or else when I go back with a concern regarding particular implementation the developer responds back that ”you asked me to do so”.

Trainings

There is a bunch of architecture trainings for which I have been nominated. Each of the training starts with the objective of defining what a software architect should do and details a list of established process and methodologies for that. After attending all those trainings I understood that now I need to communicate with more stakeholders and take ownership.

Communication

As an architect the communication does not stop at the architecture specification document. Because normally the entire development team do not adhere to those guidelines just like that. I need to make substantial effort in communicating each architectural aspect to the teams clearly and concisely. Sometimes white board and a closed room is far better than a power point presentation or a word document. Even after so much communication I need to accept that there will be deviations that I need to live with.

Respect

The one thing that brings lot of sense and satisfaction is majority of the team members show lot of respect.

-Ferose

Attributes of a good team

Tags

, ,

I wanted to know why some team always achieve their targets in style and still enjoy every day “what are the attributes of a good team?”. After leading & watching couple of different teams in the past 6 years in my opinion the following are attributes of a good team in my opinion.

Conflict within team

All team have internal conflict. Because all team members are not same. But a good team uses conflict to its advantage. No one just agrees to the decisions without a debate or question. If some thing is wrong it is communicated on the face. The same members who debate fiercely inside a meeting are the ones who sit together for a happy chat in the coffee table. The outcome of the conflict is always positive.

Mutual Respect

All the team members have mutual respect for one another in a good team. It makes the team more integrated. It makes the team member to listen to others point of view. It also provides courage to others to express their point of view. It makes the team to commit itself to a decision made. It brings in self discipline and a sense of satisfaction. It also makes the senior team members learn from their own juniors without any ego. It makes communication open within the team.

Empathy

All the team members put themselves into the other person’s shoes before asking the other to do something. This way each team member knows what is the feeling from the other team member. A good team never brands a particular team member to do particular kind of job. Each team member yields and shares the good work with others. Also all the team members take up painful jobs too. It increases sharing within the team.

Share success & failure

All the team members shares and celebrates the success together. A single team member do not hijack the team’s success. Again when there is a failure the whole team takes the responsibility together. A single person is never made a scapegoat. This builds up trust within the team. The team members learn to take up success and failure the same way. People don’t take the success to their head and failure to their heart.

Share knowledge

All the team members irrespective of experience shares the knowledge with other team members. The collective knowledge of the team grows exponentially over a period of time. New team members are productive in a short span of time. All team members feel that knowledge is to be shared and doesn’t hold back essential knowledge with them. Since knowledge is power the team achieves more in less time when compared to other teams.

Leadership

Each and every team member display leadership quality (I am planning a separate post for this). All the team members own and take responsibility for the team’s output and delivery. Individual team members put team’s priority ahead of their own individual priorities. They help the manager in making informed decisions. Problems are communicated well ahead.

Help one another

All the team members help and support one another. A team member falling sick, someone in the team needs an unforeseen leave, Someone injured etc., are taken care by the team. All the team members gives priority to the missing team member’s task. This way the loss of the team member is only visible to the team and outside the team nobody feels the loss. During these situations all the team members stretch whole heartedly. This builds trust and the missing member recovers faster due to lesser stress.

Responds stronger during crisis

Every team goes through a period of crisis and tough time some time in the life span. This is the best time to identify a good team. A good team remains cool whatever may be the situation. It collects the list of problems, time available & resource available. Then the team works out a solution and implements the solution with utmost focus. The team comes out of the crisis successfully. During this whole time no team member criticize the other team member. The team is always focused on the task to be done. From the outside no one can feel that the team is in crisis.

Learn from the failure

Success and failures are two sides of a coin. A good team responds to failure with a positive attitude. First the team searches for the root cause and not for an individual. Once the root cause is found, the team seeks how to avoid that in future. Then the team forgets the failure and remembers only the lesson taught by the failure. In future the team doesn’t commit the same mistake again.

Finds solutions

For a team it is very easy to find problems, escalate, crib and wait for someone to solve. A good team does the other way. It searches for solutions. It never waits from some one else to come and fix their problems. All the team members actively participate in the implementation of a solution. All these small solutions act as a lubricant that reduces the friction in the day to day work. Mostly the team members are happy because no one is worrying about problems but all are actively searching for a solution.

To conclude the following saying perfectly applies to teams also. Its people who make a team.

“Great people talk about ideas.
Average people talk about things.
Small people talk about other people.”

– Ferose

Motivating frustrated team member

Tags

, ,

This time I will present the strategy that I have followed in the past to motivate the frustrated team member. It is not an easy task to accomplish. But nothing is impossible.

 Communication

First and foremost thing is to communicate the news (that the team member looks frustrated) to the team member. Lot of time it is hard to communicate this bad news. But hiding the problem from the team member will not solve the problem but in reality it will worsen the problem. Clearly tell the current situation on the face. Sometimes the team member doesn’t even know his current status.

 One on One meeting

It is easy to talk and give lot of advice but it is hard to sit and listen. Again if you want to get the team member out of frustration, listen to his side of the story. A few important things to follow while doing this

 

¨     Allocate half an hour in each work week and talk to the team member

¨     Try to listen to the team member with out interrupting his thought flow

¨     Don’t justify anything

¨     Be open to the team member’s suggestion

¨     The meeting should be time bound

¨     There should be clear cut action path decided for both the manager and the team member.

  Feedback

In my personal opinion the major factor for frustration is low respect from fellow team members. Try to help the team member in finding out why the other team members are feeling that way. Don’t give general feedback like “You are not punctual” “You are not dedicated” etc., instead give specific scenarios like “You delayed the delivery of this package which in turn delayed person X delivery” “You were not showing enough interest in getting this Y job done on time”. And also detail regarding what was expected out of the team member in those scenarios.

 Appreciation

This is the most important one. Every team member wants to prove that he/she is of value to the project and will show some visible changes on doing the about steps. It is the responsibly of the leader to identify the changes and appreciate if the team member is heading in the right direction. Appreciating a team member at the right time can work wonders. 

 Follow-up

Once you feel that the team member is out of the frustration don’t give up and act like nothing happened. Try to continue the one on one meeting but with a longer time intervals. Also make the team member feel confident. Allocate more responsibilities and empower the team member.

Indentifying frustrated team member…

Tags

, ,

After long time I thought of posting something again. This time regarding how to find out, that a team member is totally frustrated.

Every team member starts with lot of enthusiasm in the beginning when one joins a team. One takes up different kinds of job and tries to accomplish them at record speed. Each developer wants to get the recognition from his fellow developer and his lead. As time passes by things change. Some team members are regarded as high due to their technical excellence. Some are regarded high due to the way they present themselves. Slowly this level of differences builds up some kind of frustration with in a team member. If as a lead one cannot identify such a situation and encourage the team member at the end of the day the whole team  needs to face the consequences.

Now the important question is,

“How do a team lead find out that a team member has reached such a frustrated state?”

Over the years in my own personal experience the following list of things can be helpful

Intuition

Intuition is one among the best thing here. If a team lead has understood all his team members well, then a team lead feels that a particular team member is having some problem. But this is like Zen. It takes really long time and good amount of experience for a team lead to attain such a level.

Remaining Alone

As far as I know when somebody is frustrated one prefers to be alone. So if a developer  starts to prefer to be alone rather than being part of the team. Then it is a clear indication. This can be easily identified in team meetings. A frustrated developer never concentrates on what others are saying and doesn’t contribute any of his own comments on the subject. The team member attends the meetings just for the sake of attending the meeting and always ready to get out of the meeting room.

Don’t know

Again this requires some amount of experience to find this out. At a critical time when information is need of the hour a team member who knows the exact information will always come forward irrespective of what. But if a team member is frustrated then he says a clear no and says that some one needs to find the solution for that. Most of the time for an experienced team lead it is easy guess who will know the answer for a particular problem. But it is hard to find out whether a no coming from a team member is a real no.

Follow Orders

The other important aspect of frustration is a team member blindly follows the orders like military commando. In the normal circumstances a team member argues with the lead, if he thinks something is ridiculous. But once a team member is frustrated he will do anything given to him without any thought process. And when there is a problem he comes back with the argument that it was you who suggested such a solution.

Stick to Timelines

Every team member wants to impress others by completing task ahead of schedule. But once a team member is frustrated he will bargain huge amount of time for the smallest of the task. And he sticks to the time frame. If he finishes early he doesn’t come back with pride saying that he has finished early but waits till the allocated time is spent.

Pessimism

The easiest to identify is this aspect. When a team member gets really frustrated he tends be pessimistic regarding everything. Any team lead should be able to identify this very easily.

Next time I will write some solutions for the above list of issues.

-Ferose Khan J

Sharpening the axe…..

Tags

, , ,

Here is my next important lesson that I learned after becoming manager.

First time when I became a manager, I received a set of people as team members. As a team we started to take up task and complete them one after another as per the schedule. Things were normal and we had no issues in meeting the deadlines.

After a while slowly the output from the team started to drop. My managers commented that the initial enthusiasm of the team is gone and people are not doing their job as per the plan. Now with respect to my previous post I believed that my team was putting in the same amount of effort it was putting before. And I did not know what was the problem. So I called for a meeting and explained the situation to the team and the perception that is building up on our team. Everyone agreed that we will put in more effort and prove to the management that there is no lack in our commitment. But the story repeated we missed deadlines more now.

At this time I read a small story

Once upon a time, a very strong woodcutter asked for a job to a timber merchant, and he got it. The pay was good and so were the working conditions. For that reason, the woodcutter was determined to do his best. His boss gave him an axe and showed him the area where he was supposed to work. The first day, the woodcutter brought 18 trees “Congratulations,” the boss said. “Carry on that way!”.

Very motivated with the boss’s words, the woodcutter tried harder the next day, but he could bring only 15 trees. The third day he tried even harder, but could bring 10 trees only. Day after day he was bringing less and less trees. “I must be losing my strength”, the woodcutter thought.

He went to the boss and apologized, saying that he could not understand what was going on. “When was the last time you sharpened your Axe?” the boss asked. “Sharpen? I had no time to sharpen my Axe. I have been very busy trying to cut more trees for you.”

I slowly understood the root cause behind our current crisis. As a team we were working harder and harder day after day. But we were still using the old methodologies. Sometimes we had the tools, but we never investigated in what way we can use that tool better. Sometimes the solutions were already published in the documentations provided to us but we always tried brute force to solve the issue. There is a famous saying from Tesla

“If Edison had a needle to find in a haystack, he would proceed at once with the diligence of the bee to examine straw after straw until he found the object of his search.
I was a sorry witness of such doings, knowing that a little theory and calculation would have saved him ninety per cent of his labor.”

- Nikola Tesla

So we as a team started to update our knowledge regarding various tools and technologies. Slowly we were putting in lesser effort but we started to meet our deadlines again. The top management was happy with our quick turn around. But only we as a team knew what went wrong and how we corrected it.

Now a days before inducting any new team member we have made it a practice to give enough basic training regarding all the areas.

The lesson learned was “Knowledge is power” so as a manager it is up to me to update the team members knowledge base as much as required. It saved us lot of time and we never landed into a situation where we had to sacrifice our vacation for the sake of project.

FUD or TRUST in team management..

Tags

, ,

Last time I promised that I will write further regarding team management. When I became a manager for a small team of 6. It was a new experience. Suddenly I am responsible for a set of individual contributors whom I cannot completely control. And first things that came to my mind was FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt).

Fear

That the team member is not doing what I intend but doing something else for eg browsing the web.

Uncertainty

That the team member will not complete the task in the allocated time and because of that all my planning and scheduling is going to go for a toss.

Doubt

Whether the team member is really spending time in doing the job or is just acting in front of me.

But luckily before becoming a manager I worked as an individual contributor under 2 nice managers Unnikrishnan and Ansuman who taught an important lesson.

That lesson was a manager should trust his team. A manager should never think his team member would cheat him.

It is true that out of a 6 member team 2 may get distracted to other things. But for the sake of those 2 if the manager starts to doubt all the other 4 definitely the team will act as per the manager’s perception. So when the manager is not around they would sit and browse. And act like working in front of him. 

In my own experience I have seen that each member in the team expects respect from his other colleagues and his manager. And if he comes to know that his manager trusts him it works wonders. He may be browsing in front of the manager that is not really important but when the manager is not around he will do the work which is very important. This way a manager need not do any micromanagement.

So the first lesson that I learned was to get rid of the FUD and have TRUST in my own team.

- Ferose

Installing windows 7 from USB stick

Its long time I posted something to my blog. I thought of posting something useful. Like every one else I was following up with the Windows 7 development at http://blogs.msdn.com/e7/. And I was pretty sure that the windows team is going to come back with a great OS after Vista. It has happened in the past like XP after Windows ME. Once I heard there is a beta version available I wanted to get my hands dirty with the new OS fresh from the lab.

I have a Dell latitude D810 which is a capable laptop. But I don’t have a DVD burner so that I can burn the image and install it straight forward. So the only available option was to get it installed somehow through an 4GBUSB stick. Already I had tried Fedora  10 with the same USB stick so the boot sector was filled with syslinux. Here are my steps.

Steps

  • I already had 3 NTFS partition. I cleaned up one partition with 20GB and backed up all the data.
  • First format the USB stick as FAT32(which will wipe the entire data.)
  • Extract(I used winrar) all the files in the installation iso file to the USB stick.
  • Now stick is ready It has to be made bootable.
  • I am more comfortable with grub since its pretty simple. Follow the steps 1 to 4 given in Hiren bootcd http://www.hiren.info/pages/bootcd-on-usb-disk.
  • In the USB stick open the menu.lst file and add an entry for the windows 7 as follows.  menu
  • Now USB stick is ready. Put the usb stick in to an usb port and reboot the machine.
  • While booting enter the boot menu and set usb device as the first device.
  • Now once you save and exit. The machine boots to the grub screen.
  • Choose the windows 7 option. The setup starts. After copying all the setup files it will ask for a reboot. Now the usb stick is no more required.
  • Remove the stick and reboot the machine. The windows 7 installation is a breeze. It will go through without a hitch. i installed the OS in the empty NTFS partition(Since we cannot install the OS on a USB stick).
  • After installation once you enter into windows goto Control Panel > System and Security > Windows Update and enable auto update.
  • The wireless, ATI graphics and sound card drivers were downloaded and installed by the windows update automatically.
  • The only problem reported was with my microsoft VX1000 webcam. I downloaded and installed the vista driver but it somehow crashes the OS.
  • That’s it windows 7 is ready. Goto microsoft.com and register your copy by participating in the beta program.w7
  • Hope this helps somebody.
    Technorati Tags: ,
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.