Velocity a misnomer – Implications for agile software development

June 2, 2014 at 2:09 pm | Posted in Best fit Agile, Blogroll, Out of my mind, Real-life experiences | Leave a comment

I saw a news item yesterday about freight train movement between Mumbai and Delhi. It has only one stop at Vadodara in the total distance of around 1400 Km. The track ahead is kept free to ensure “Sustained pace”. This reminded me of my childhood days spent in a railway town. The primary mode of travel for us was the trains, and I still remember the poor goods train waiting patiently in a loop line while a mail train thundered by.

Over all these years, both the throughput and velocity of freight trains have substantially increased. The freight train mentioned in the news is two KM long and carries substantially greater weight from origin to destination. It also moves in an “Expedite” mode in preference to other trains. The terms sustained pace and expedite that came to my mind shifted my attention to agile software development, and I started thinking whether the way we use “Velocity” is correct. Isn’t size delivered per sprint a measure of throughput rather than velocity? I looked up the definition of velocity and found that it is “The rate and direction of the change in the position of an object”. It is closer to speed than throughput.

That shifted my attention back to trains. A passenger train which stops at every station and an express train stopping at only the major stations may carry more or less same number of passengers (throughput), but they cover the same distance in substantially different times (velocity). A passenger train might attain, for a brief period, speed similar to an express train. But its average speed is much lower because of, not only the waiting time at the stations, but more so because of the frequent acceleration and deceleration involved.

This explains why there is so much importance given in agile for a team to take up only a few items at a time, and take up additional items only when those in hand are fully “Done”. Unlike the trains which follow physical laws, agile teams made up of humans have an additional challenge. Once our attention is diverted to something else, it takes time and effort to switch it back to what we were doing earlier. In addition the information we used might have also become stale in the meantime. So if the agile teams want to achieve high velocity and maintain it, they should be aware and manage the number of items being worked on at a time.

I also remembered that when I was waiting in a passenger train for an express / mail train to pass, sometimes the wait was quite short while at other times it was considerably longer. This was because of the dependency on the time at which the higher priority train would pass. And we had no information when that would happen. Agile encourages transparency. A perfectly flat transparent glass allows a viewer to see on the other side very clearly. Similarly, all those involved in any work should have the information, without filtering or distortion, when they need it. Agile processes and tools provide high degree of transparency, and it is for us to make sure that it remains so.

Another way to minimize the harmful effects of dependency is with enhanced and effective collaboration. When cross-functional team members work on the same item, speed and quality with which it gets completed is phenomenal. Hand-offs are the worst enemy of velocity.

In earlier days, there were single tracks between two stations. This resulted in only unidirectional movement at a time. The other train had to wait at the station. Presently with parallel tracks in both directions this is not an issue. Hence in agile we should think of velocity (a vector) and not just speed (a scalar). Rework moves in the opposite direction to the normal work and slows it down considerably.

There is a saying “Words make the world”. We should not mix throughput and velocity or use one in place of another. Commonly used words package lot of information and meaning with it. More importantly, the words also package the emotions. A mere mention of such a word starts the train of thoughts and images associated with it, and recreates the emotions involved as if they are being experienced now. Wrongly using the velocity when we actually mean throughput deprives us of the immense benefits mentioned above that can make our work simpler and life easier.

Scrum master – A job description

May 19, 2014 at 4:55 pm | Posted in Best fit Agile, Blogroll, Out of my mind, Scrum and agile | Leave a comment

Recently I across a job description for the Scrum master role. It started with the mandatory sentence “Scrum master serves and protects the team”. But beyond that followed a long list of activities, mostly of administrative nature, which had virtually no relation to the serve and protect part. This made me start thinking. Here is how I would like rephrase the job description.

A Scrum master must be acutely aware:
• Aware of Agile, not just Scrum
• Aware of the power of agile tool that the team uses, both in terms of how it can help or harm; and
• Aware of the potential of his team members and inhibitions harbored by them

Why does he need to be holistically aware of agile and not just limited to Scrum?
Scrum is a good framework but it is just one way of doing agile. There are others, and those can further enrich the team’s capabilities and make their life easier.

There are agile principles which can guide him when in doubt. For example the one called “Simplicity” is so beautifully defined as “The art of maximizing the amount of work not done”, which can serve him in a vast range of situations.

Why is the agile tool so important?
Initially agile was tentatively tried out for simple cases, hence the manual information sharing and face to face interactions were good enough. But as it has matured over the years, now it is being confidently practiced for much more complex situation, for example bigger projects in offshore development mode.

In such situations using a good agile tool is a must. Otherwise there is an excessive overhead to keep everybody in sync.

A good tool also can capture lot of useful data through the transactions it handles, and provide rich reports based on the data provided it is reliable. This means all the relevant data is in the tool and not outside it.

Secondly, if the tool has to automatically capture the time related information, such information must enter the tool as soon as it happens. It takes discipline to do so, and the Scrum master must take care of it.

The tool provides benefit because it automates lot of manual work. But such automation has its cost and introduce certain degree of rigidity. The Scrum master must understand these aspects and guide all concerned, including the team, in a right direction.

Why do people matter?
People bring unique potential and valuable diversity. But this also introduces its own challenges.

One is the assumptions and beliefs held by the people, which sometimes can severely restrict or distort use of agile.

Secondly neither processes nor tools have any emotions, but people do. This requires very careful handling. The Scrum master should appreciate and accordingly serve and protect the team.

[Note: The term “serves and protects” can sometimes be confusing and open to multiple interpretations. If in doubt, look at a mother who doesn’t feel it below her dignity to do whatever it takes to look after her child’s interests. She doesn’t think twice when the child is threatened by an external or internal challenge and rushes to its rescue. And she leads by example. She truly personifies the role of a Scrum master.]

In short to be effective a Scrum master must grasp the essence of his role and love being one. Otherwise any amount of knowledge or training won’t help much. He should really understand agile in its totality, know the details of the tools used, and empathize with people he deals with both within and outside the team.

 

Simple and flexible process architecture for complex software development structures

May 16, 2014 at 5:31 pm | Posted in Best fit Agile, Blogroll, Scrum and agile | Leave a comment

The three principle entities in any software development structure are, releases products and teams. I have seen a wide range of permutations and combinations, from very straightforward to quite complex. A simple and flexible process architecture is outlined below, to deal with range of such situations.

Product is the central entity. Any software system worth its salt is not a single homogeneous product, but actually a product suite which contains multiple product lines. Each of these product lines have their individual backlogs to work from, and hence each can be considered as a separate project for the purpose of this discussion.

On one side, each project needs one or more teams to do the actual work and take the project to its next stable state. Currently I am dealing with an interesting situation, not uncommon these days, where most of the teams are specialized in their own area, while few others are generic cross-functional teams.

On the other side, stories from multiple projects need to be complete before a given release. So this is a many-to-many situation on both sides of a project. If we are able to come with a simple process architecture for this complex situation, hopefully it can be equally applicable to situations that involve one-to-many or even one-to-one relationships. Key to this solution lies in making the main three entities loosely coupled.

We are using agile approach for software development. Hence it needs a shift in the way we look at Scrum Kanban and Lean. Rather than treating them as independent methodologies, we are looking at them as just tools which we can use in combination as needed. Something like when we have a hammer spanner and Screw driver, we use a hammer to hit something in, and then tighten with a screw driver while holding it with a spanner. Once we are clear about the specific benefits & limitations of each tool, we use them just in the right way.

Each project has its own backlog, and the epics and stories are defined at the project level. Agile provides us a way to achieve incremental stability through sprints. The teams work on these user stories to complete the sprints. Releases depend on timely completion of these stories, which is managed through sprints. Scrum works for the projects. Team doesn’t need its own sprints. It can easily pull only the relevant stories from multiple projects on a single Kanban board. In the same way, each release manager can design his own Kanban board which at a single place shows him all the relevant information.

Stories have their own lifecycle, which may extend on each side of a sprint. We need a way for the teams to visualize their current work status as well as progress, for the entire span of their involvement. Each team may have different span depending on the functional compositional of their team. For example, architects may be involved primarily in the grooming activity, product owner & business analysts in grooming certification and acceptance, while the developers (including testers) primarily in the development and certification stage. Being able to visualize their work would help not only in having everybody interested on the same page, but would also provide early warning signals on the risks developing.

The holistic view, focus on customer value, and constant attention to avoiding waste provided by Lean fits well into this picture.

Since we are not using Scrum kanban or Lean alone by itself, there will be interesting challenges that will surface and so will have to be handled. More to follow; stay tuned.

Agile starts where processes end

May 8, 2014 at 5:17 pm | Posted in Best fit Agile, Blogroll, Scrum and agile | Leave a comment

Processes have been there, and will continue to be there. They were required when we did waterfall; they were there when we did incremental development; they are here when we do agile development, and they will be there when some new way of building software will emerge in future. They are a given.

But what agile brings to the table is something unique, and to really benefit from it we need to grasp this uniqueness. But before we do that, we need to understand the processes better.

Processes love to be left alone. In a way it is good, because it releases our attention to focus on things that matter most. But from time to time, our needs change and our context also changes. If the processes can’t keep up with these changes, they start becoming stale and gradually become outdated. They become more of a pain than pleasure.

There is another challenge to keeping the processes in tune with the changing needs. There are vested interests which make processes into a religion. And like all religions, the middlemen make things more complex and rigid than they need to be.

One of the possible solutions is for the agile teams to take charge and decide what works for them. The role of an agile coach would then be to empower the teams improve their processes using agile principles, rather than defining and enforcing the processes for them.

Agile manifesto, which was primarily aimed at software development, can be suitably modified as below to guide the teams for taking responsibility for improving their own processes. The possible agile manifesto for agile teams could be,

“We as an agile team are uncovering better ways of executing our work, by doing it and helping others do it. We value,
• Human collaboration over impersonal processes
• Usable practices over borrowed processes
• Empirical approach over defined processes
• Responding to reality over sticking to a plan”

To summarize, processes need help from us humans to stay alive to the reality. And we need help from Agile to do so.

Definition of done and Acceptance criteria – Distinction is important

May 5, 2014 at 9:40 am | Posted in Best fit Agile, Blogroll, Scrum and agile | Leave a comment

Definition of done and acceptance criteria are two important components of a requirement captured in the form of a user story. However in my interactions with agile teams, I have often noticed lack of clarity about how they differ from each other and why the distinction is important. Here is how I see it. Responses from the readers are welcome.

Lean has a concept of %C&A (Complete and Accurate) used widely in value stream mapping. While the end user interacts with the system, at different stages of the interaction he has a sense of how far his needs are being fulfilled, both in scope and correctness. Scope is about what is included, and what is not, in the requirement. Correctness is about how accurately the aspects in scope are accurately implemented. The user experience at each point of interaction with the system is the net result of both; and leads to either satisfaction / delight or dissatisfaction / irritation.

The crisp three part user story format, I as (a role) want (the expectation) so that (value I would get), is very useful but not sufficient. It must be supplemented by the details of C&A. Confusion between the two probably arises because of use of the term “Done” in definition of done. Another way of expressing these two terms in a simpler format could be; “This includes” for scope, and “Ways to verify” for accuracy.

Who would benefit by this clear separation of the intent? Almost all the roles involved.

When a business analyst captures the requirement in discussion with the end users or their proxy, adding “This includes” to the three-part format will clarify the scope. As the story is groomed with involvement from the development team, further aspects of “This includes” will be uncovered and the “Ways to verify” will be captured. UX specialists can complement this with their inputs to ensure that the implicit user expectations are not forgotten.

When the story reaches the first point of stability “Groomed”, the user feedback can be obtained and alignment reached. This will also provide an opportunity to agree on the user acceptance tests and avoid defect leakages from the requirements.

The distinction will help the developers, including the testers, to define the tasks correctly to ensure the scope is fully covered. QA can start working on the certification criteria keeping in mind the UAT (User acceptance tests) and share them with the Dev-testers to make sure those are checked before the story reaches the next point of stability “Developed”. This will avoid defect leakages from the “Development” stage.

This stability will help the QA + UAT to focus more on making sure that the story is not only complete in itself but fits well with the rest of the system before taking it to stable “Certified” stage. Chance of defect leakages to production are thus minimized.

At this point the product owner would be more confident that the scope is completely covered, and it has been accurately implemented. He can therefore focus on making sure of the overall integrity and the expected user experience. The UX specialists can provide him valuable help. This will enable him to take the story to the next stable state of “Accepted”.

So in short, the difference between definition of done and acceptance criteria can be clearly separated without confusion if we use simple and clear terms to depict them. This clarity will help those in a variety of functional roles and help prevent defect leakages at each point in the system as story completes its life cycle from “Open” to “Closed” through different stages of incremental stability.

Scrum and Kanban fusion with Lean Tadka

April 26, 2014 at 4:09 pm | Posted in Best fit Agile, Blogroll | Leave a comment

When we can have fusion music and fusion food, why not fusion Agile? Scrum and Kanban originated in two different worlds, but blending them together in a right mix opens up huge possibilities.

Scrum has its origins in software development. It evolved as a natural progression from waterfall to incremental to Scrum, while all along shrinking the time gap to the next stable increment. Given these roots it is not surprising that it continues to be a batch process; though with a small batch size of 2 to 4 weeks of work.

On the other hand, Kanban (and Lean) came from the manufacturing world; rather from the auto industry. So it is to be expected that there is a strong influence of the JIT (just-in-time) movement pioneered by the Japanese auto industry, which focuses on continuous flow.

In software development, Scrum started around 20 years back. Initially it was tried with small projects having collocated teams. With greater confidence from the initial successes, the word spread around and it is now being used in large and far more complex projects. This made it necessary to have a number of small cross-functional teams working on the same backlog. As if this was not enough, the offshore development model has added its own challenges; especially in the area of communication and collaboration.

There is also a strong desire to try Scrum for all kinds of situations, and even for organizational areas beyond software development. This led to renewed interest in other agile methods like Kanban and Lean, which though less than 10 years old in software development have been fast catching up. We are currently at an interesting point. There are some attempts at combining Scrum & Kanban, e.g. Scrumban, but these are few and far between. There is tremendous scope to take a fresh look from a higher agile perspective and dispassionately choose agile practices from these two methods as appropriate, without fear or favour.

Though the Scrum community at large appears to be a little skeptical and reluctant to explore other agile methods like Kanban and Lean, the Scrum guide which is the official Scrum reference has already moved towards a more realistic and flexible approach that makes it possible to continue with Scrum and at the same time borrow useful practices from Kanban and Lean.

Here are a few examples from the latest Scrum guide July 2013. Those who are still caught up in the old rigid ways of doing Scrum may find this uncomfortable. But others with an open mind will find it interesting.

• The Product Owner is responsible for maximizing the value of the product and the work of the Development Team. The Product Owner tracks the total work remaining at least every Sprint Review. The Product Owner compares this amount with work remaining at previous Sprint Reviews to assess progress toward completing projected work by the desired time for the goal. This information is made transparent to all stakeholders.
• Various projective practices upon trending have been used to forecast progress, like burn-downs, burn-ups, or cumulative flows. These have proven useful. However, these do not replace the importance of empiricism. In complex environments, what will happen is unknown. Only what has happened may be used for forward-looking decision-making.
• The Sprint Goal gives the Development Team some flexibility regarding the functionality implemented within the Sprint. The Sprint Goal can be any coherence that causes the Development Team to work together rather than on separate initiatives.
• The Sprint Backlog is the set of Product Backlog items selected for the Sprint, plus a plan for delivering the product Increment and realizing the Sprint Goal. The Development Team modifies the Sprint Backlog throughout the Sprint, and the Sprint Backlog emerges during the Sprint.
• During the sprint planning meeting, work planned for the first days of the Sprint by the Development Team is decomposed by the end of this meeting, often to units of one day or less. As new work is required, the Development Team adds it to the Sprint Backlog. As work is performed or completed, the estimated remaining work is updated. When elements of the plan are deemed unnecessary, they are removed.
• At the end of a Sprint, the new Increment must be “Done”. It must be in useable condition regardless of whether the Product Owner decides to actually release it.

In short, the Scrum guide accepts the dynamism in complex situations, keeps the focus on the long term goal and tracks progress towards it sprint by sprint. While it recognizes usefulness of practices like burn-down burn-up and cumulative flow, it appreciates the importance of watching and adjusting to reality, not only by observations but also from data collected from the past. Emergence of powerful agile tools helps to provide progress visualization along with trends and patterns without any extra overhead once there is discipline of timely data updates in the tool. Even at the sprint level, initial planning is done in enough detail to gain confidence in the team’s ability to deliver on time, but the work details emerge throughout the sprint.

How can Lean and Kanban add value to Scrum? Lean brings the focus on end user value. When all the functions involved in the work focus on this value, their interactions automatically become collaborative rather than competitive. Handovers and delays between functions are avoided and the work flows fast and smooth. Kanban provides features to manage the WIP, Queues and bottlenecks which make the flow even more smooth and fast.

How can Scrum add value to Lean & Kanban? Scrum brings specific goals & milestones for incremental stability, which keeps the work on track in the desired direction.

When we combine these two streams together, we get a simple & flexible framework to manage a broad variety of situations from very simple to very complex. More on this in the upcoming posts.

How Agile Principles help us enhance customer value

February 24, 2014 at 1:42 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Out of my mind, Practice Excellence, Scrum and agile | Leave a comment

CPIE captures what a customer values most. It stands for Certainty / Productivity / Innovation / Elegance. The concept can also be extended to internal customers.

When agile manifesto was announced in Feb 2001, twelve supporting agile principles were also identified. Even after 13 years very few people know about these principles; even those who are using agile practices in their work.

These 12 principles can be broadly divided in 3 categories.
Customer: Satisfy Customer | Working Software | Deliver Frequently | Sustainable Development
People: Motivated Individuals | Work together | Self-organization | Face to face
Process: Welcome Change / Technical excellence / Inspect & Adapt / Simplicity

It would be interesting to see how these agile principles can help and guide us to achieve CPIE.

Certainty is a perception that customers form based on their interactions with us over a period of time. It is partly subjective and partly objective. To provide certainty, we must have the desire and will to keep our commitments. If we don’t have that, the customers will see it through our actions. But however well we plan, everything is not under our control. Things change, new situations emerge. “Welcome change” mindset helps us to see the new reality because we are not stuck to our existing assumptions and beliefs, and through “Inspect & Adapt” can quickly adjust to the new situation. “Deliver frequently” provides instant feedback about the changes in customer expectations. All this helps to make mid-course corrections to meet the current situations and customer expectations by the promised date.

Productivity is all about output upon input. Output is the value delivered to the customer. Input is the efforts we put in. “Simplicity” – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – helps us to get more done with less. “Satisfy customer” helps us to be always focused on the customer value. Similarly focus on “Working software” helps to avoid unnecessary activities that are not adding any value.

Innovation is required in two areas; technical and practices. Continuous attention to “Technical excellence” and good design fosters the culture of Innovation. “Motivated individuals” can quickly identify opportunities for practice innovation and when they “Work together” it leads to useable results.

Elegance is an elusive concept which can only be experienced. It has been variously described as neatness, precision, simplicity, tasteful design, dignified gracefulness, and restrained beauty. It requires continuous attention to quality which is possible only with “Sustained development”. To experience the elegance requires full use of multiple senses, which is enhanced with “Face to face” interactions. It is difficult to achieve elegance with command & control culture. It requires “Self-organization” to bring out the best from each team member.

Though we have looked at each element of CPIE separately for better understanding, they need to be approached holistically. Together they produce the kind of synergy that is impossible if attention is divided.

To summarize, understanding the agile principles and related practices is important to achieve CPIE. But even more important is an agile mind to understand and use the right principles / practices as may be required for a given situation.

Let Go!

July 27, 2013 at 2:13 am | Posted in Blogroll, Out of my mind, Scrum and agile | 1 Comment

Have you ever been on a group tour? Everything is planned to the last detail, and executed meticulously. Totally expected, no surprises.

I hesitate to go on such tours. I prefer family tours, where there is a lot more flexibility. You can choose when to get up, where to eat. May be cancel some planned activity and just relax walking around the neighbourhood.

All of us have an internal compass. It takes us in the right direction, at least metaphorically, if not literally. More we trust our compass, more will be the surprises.

As a child we all have gone on a treasure hunt, some of us still do. There is no map to take us to the treasure. Just a few pointers. Even those we don’t have all when we start. When we reach one milestone, we get the next clue. It has lot more adventure and fun.

Isn’t agile software development similar? We go to the end of one sprint, have the satisfaction of achieving “Done”, show to others what we have done and get feedback; our clues to the next milestone. We have our product vision and a broad roadmap. That is our compass. It will keep us in the right direction.

When we get comfortable with our internal compass and trust forces beyond us, an external compass called destiny comes into play. Instead of remaining passive puppets in the hands of destiny, we actively embrace it.

Columbus trusted his internal compass and took to uncharted seas to reach India. The destiny had other plans. Fortunately, Columbus did not have Google maps and the GPS. Otherwise US would have remained undiscovered to the rest of the world.

January 20, 2013 at 5:37 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Real-life experiences, Scrum and agile | Leave a comment

Indore has a tradition of annual festival of Indian classical music, called “Sanghi Sangeet Sammelan”, which features high quality performances. Last night, we had a good fortune to experience violin concert by Dr. N. Rajam. Her daughter Sangeeta Shankar, and grand-daughter Ragini Shankar accompanied her. The three generations of musicians were performing together.

The performance started on dot. They started with raaga “Yaman”. Since the audience was quite familiar with Dr. Rajam having heard her before. But most of us were watching Sangeeta and Ragini for the first time, so Dr. Rajam introduced them and in the initial parts the three took turns so that the audience could have a good feel of each of them individually. Once we were familiar with playing style of all three, they kept reducing the duration between two change-overs from one to the other. Soon before we realized, all three were playing in unison. Sometimes, even one line of the lyric would be divided between the three and we would not notice it. The handover was so smooth and efficient that the the individuals were transcended and it gave a feeling as if a single person is playing. It was a great feeling and the audience just got focused on the music. It was also a pleasure to watch the players’ expression of joy as they were enjoying a perfect team work. It looked a completely self-organizing team; there was no indication of Dr. Rajam giving even silent instructions to the other two.

They were improvising as they went along and the audience loved it. The collective movement through the raaga was so smooth like a bird flying effortlessly, that there was no indication what-so-ever of a great musical discipline in place. In a classical music, even a small variation from the essential structure would be noticed immediately and frowned upon. It was a great combination of perfect self-discipline, engineering excellence and total freedom to try out different variations spontaneously. Can there be a better example of a perfectly agile team at work?

But the agility didn’t stop there. We had till then not noticed Himanshu Mahant who was accompanying them on Tabla so effectively. To bring our attention to him, Dr. Rajam played a short duet demonstrating how a great support person anticipates the needs of the team and responds correctly and appropriately. Both were enjoying the perfect co-ordination, as was quite visible on their faces.

Dr. Rajam was in complete control of the situation, but there was no attempt to command & control. There was no indication of any tension. Each one anticipated and respected others’ needs and responded accordingly; while enjoying being part of a great team. Dr. Rajam was not just a player but also the team leader, a coach and a mentor all rolled-in-one. There were no separate roles and job descriptions. Yet there was no confusion.

After a little over an hour, before we noticed the first raaga was over and there was a deafening applause, which just wouldn’t stop. The team had got their immediate feedback.

After a short Bhajan, it was 9 pm and interval was announced. But the agility didn’t stop even there. In spite of sitting through an intense performance for an hour and half, hardly anybody stirred from their seats. The organizers sensed the expectations of the audience and did a quick check. As the performers were collecting their instruments preparing to leave and the curtain was slowly closing, it stopped mid-way and the well-known well-respected announcer Sanjay Patel came to the stage requesting Dr. Rajam for continuation of another 30 minutes. After a quick exchange with other team members, she agreed. Here was a clear evidence all-around of value placed on “Respond to change over following a plan” of the agile manifesto.

Finally, after another 30 minutes of riveting performance, it was time for the interval. Here was a clear example of not just an agile team, but agile support, and rather of an agile eco-system. It was a great experience rarely seen even, in our domain of software development as it keeps struggling to be agile.

When we were leaving after the program, I remembered what Dr. Rajam had said while introducing her grand-daughter. She said that in their family, it is a common custom to hand-over a violin to a child when he / she reaches the age of three, and before it realizes how difficult it is to play violin, it has started playing with it. I wondered why we also couldn’t do something similar. How nice it would be if the software industry, rather than waiting for them to complete their education, involved students early enough in their school career and helped them create some simple but interesting software.

Who am I – Beyond the labels

July 30, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Out of my mind | 2 Comments

Till about a couple of years back, I used to visit my blog at random. But I realized that blogging helps me shape my ideas, insights and takeaways from different experiences better. So I resolved to add a new post every Monday and followed it religiously for last two years, even when I was on vacation. However, the regularity had somehow started to compromise the quality & originality of what I captured & shared. This led me to take a break for last 6-7 weeks and wait until there was a strong urge to share something really worthwhile. Today, I feel such an urge to share what follows.

There is a very popular Indian TV serial – Satyamev Jayate – which means truth will always prevail. In an episode a couple of weeks back, Justice Dharmadhikari was invited as one of the guests. He said that right from birth, label after label was attached to him, so much so that he now struggles to find his real self, hidden behind the labels. This comment led to the current chain of thought.

If we look at a typical resume, it mostly contains the labels. When and which family we were born in, where & what we studied, where we have worked so far and holding which positions and responsibilities, certifications collected and so on. It is useful but not really sufficient to know the person. When we want to start interacting with a person, or even when we are already interacting, what we really care for is to understand what drives him and what value he would add to our relationship. This information is missing so we have to make assumptions, put the person in pre-conceived boxes and project our experiences with other people in those boxes and extrapolate our conclusions. This is a time-consuming and error prone route. Won’t it be nice if the person can just make available such information directly to us? Let me give it a try.

I still distinctly remember the two terms in a book by J. Krishnamurti which I read in late seventies. These were “Transparently genuine” and “Choicelessly aware”; they had made a deep impression on me and ever since I have tried my best to put them in practice. Let me explain their relevance in present context.

Transparently genuine – Appear to others as we truly are. Normally, there are two sets of filters through which my reality reaches you and vice versa. I can clear the filter on my side by not pretending to be somebody other than who I really am. It makes me vulnerable but still it is really worth it. Unfortunately, I have no control over the filters you use to view me. But if we both decide to be transparently genuine, we would save so much of our time & efforts to figure out the person behind the mask and as a result make our relationship truly rich and really useful to each other.

Choicelessly aware – It helps to see the reality as it is; raw & authentic without any distortions. But it is very tough to do so because the moment we come across an unpleasant reality, our built-in defense mechanism springs into action and tries to protect us by creating a mist of a make-believe world. But this takes us farther away from reality till we are in for a shock. The main reason this happens is because we feel compelled to make a choice of what we do with the observed reality about how we should respond to it. If and when we learn to postpone this knee-jerk reaction and be aware of the reality without feeling any need to make an immediate choice, we are able to observe it very authentically. After the impulse to make a choice passes, we are able to take a much better decision. I have tried this over the years and it has really worked for me. When we interact with each other, you will rarely find me on the defensive. I am rather eager to grab the opportunity to learn something new, improve and grow in the process.

After having practiced these two concepts for many years, I recently came to the conclusion that rather than always thinking about “What is in it for me?” in every relationship, it is lot more rewarding to try to be a net producer, rather than a net consumer, of value in any interaction, big or small, one time or repetitive. And it invariably comes back; more we give, more we receive.

Just saw my watch and realized that it is time to see the last episode of Satyamev Jayate which will be aired in a few minutes. Be back soon…

I am now back. This last episode was about those people who went out of their way to help others, each in his own way. Watching their heroic efforts brought tears to my eyes. In comparison my value addition to my relationships seemed trivial, but at the same time it gave an assurance that I am on the right path.

Lastly, let me share what drives me in everything I do. For many years, I kept struggling to understand what really drives me. Then one day, I came across the online strength finder assessment by Gallup which is based on a huge research data of over a million persons. After around 30 minutes of answering different questions I got the report which identified my top 5 strengths out of 34 against which I was checked. The accompanying book told me that 4 out of the top 5 strengths were from the “Strategic” domain. When I looked up the meaning of “Strategic” in the book, I was startled to find that it had exactly zeroed on what I was searching for all these years. Here it is,

  • People with great Strategic Thinking strengths are the ones who keep us all focused on what could be
  • They are constantly absorbing and analyzing information and helping the team make better decisions
  • People with strength in this domain continually stretch our thinking for the future

Since then I have consciously tried to prefer those interactions which enable me to use my strengths to the fullest while trying to add more and more value to our relationships. This is the essence of me and the cornerstone of all my actions and interactions. Hope this helps.

 

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