Thursday, November 9, 2017

Jottings - slice of life - 171 (Training to help Customers succeed, not to theoretically enable them)

Jottings - slice of life - 171 (Training to help Customers succeed, not to theoretically enable them)
For a development team, inheriting a complex technology platform from its predecessors, nothing can be of greater help than a Training session which helps them steady the ship. Especially, in a project that has seen rough weather for months with no respite or direction in sight. It can be quite scary, unnerving for all stakeholders with millions of dollars invested in migration from one technology to another, hawk eyes of senior management watching every decision and move, and team slogging desultorily each day towards successful implementation within stringent time frames. Of course, For hardcore passionate techies, such situations can be exciting and challenging, if taken in the right spirit; but oftentimes, the scale of what needs to be delivered and deadlines are so overwhelming that even the best of them can wilt under pressure and begin to have doubts. It is at such moments, teams cry out for training as last-ditch effort to recoup their pride, salvage some understanding and possibly forge ahead with what they need to do. With all other avenues closed, and no other forum available to vent their doubts and frustration, they walk into a class hoping their instructor is not merely a pedantic, pedagogical teacher who will read from slides, but someone who understands the ground reality of the topic, know the intricacies of implementation, would act as a mentor and guide, and more importantly - able to bring the project on track by addressing critical questions in production environment.
Over the last few years, I have seen this pattern emerge in more and more training assignments. A classic case was my two-day session this week for one the biggest wholesale home improvement companies. Thirty-two participants crowded the classroom from various levels - starting from lead architects to developers and testers. Anxious faces, uncertainty writ large on their faces, and a general sense of trepidation quivered in their eyes. The course I was scheduled to deliver was an advanced course, suitable only for those who understood fundamentals reasonable well. But during first ten minutes of Introduction, it was clear to me that many in the audience were unsure of basics, yet were at a stage in their project, when they couldn’t openly admit it to be so. They had to, however, getting the ball rolling smoothly. By the time, introductions were over, I was clear on the course of action. I closed my presentation, sat down in my chair and said
“Gentlemen, give me a hypothetical use case based on what you are doing. Let’s build a prototype in next two days. In the process, we will learn what needs to be learnt...”
It was a brave decision to take. I was abandoning a structured approach at the risk of jeopardizing a billable engagement. But this is the way I teach classes. So, this approach wasn’t daunting to me. The moment I said that - faces brightened, and within next half hour, a use case was created, and we began working on it. It was fascinating journey. We would spend ten minutes talking about what and why, and I would jump on to my machine to create a skeleton code. Intelligent and agile, as these young men were, within no time, they picked up the essentials and galloped along. Those who wished learn basics, surreptitiously and quietly did so without having to expose their ignorance, and others who knew fundamentals built on what they already knew. It was win- win all the way. By the end of day one, we had nearly half the use case done, and the next day was the merely icing on the cake. By mid-afternoon - day 2, we had achieved fulfillment of what we had started. It was nothing big or production scale; just a miniature replica on what they were struggling with over last couple of months. There was tremendous feeling of relief and accomplishment of all faces; and a sense of bonhomie and camaraderie replaced, what only a day before ,was filled with doubt, skepticism and mistrust.
As I gathered my things to leave the class on the second day, the tech-lead hurriedly came over and said
“Bala, out IT head wishes to speak to you for few minutes. Would you have some time?
“of course, let’s go” I replied.
He took us up the elevator to the ninth floor, a closely guarded corridor where the high and mighty sit. I was clad in customary Jeans a Polo T-shirt. my standard attire during training workshops. During our way up, he explained that this floor housed the top management. When we reached the floor, An elegant looking secretary ushered us into a spacious room, richly furnished and ornately decorated. It was as if we were entering a sanctum sanctorum. A middle aged, well groomed, geeky looking gentleman rose from his plush chair on the other side of the room, and said
“Hey Bala, glad you could come up. Just wanted to appreciate your tremendous session last two days. I understand you broke all conventions of trainings and helped them do what they have been trying to do for some months now. I am glad we had you come over. This is how training should be... We will see you soon...”
I smiled, and said nothing in particular, but thanked him for his kind gesture.
In an email last week to us, Our CEO, made an important, but simple statement. He wrote “A loyal relationship with a customer is one where we regularly beat their expectations.”. The key word there is loyal. Loyalty does not mean doing the same thing over and over again without any value addition at all. Loyalty is an evolving relationship, and a customer will begin to notice what we bring to the table only when results from training begin to produce tangible unexpected positive outcomes to them , not otherwise. The reason, why after few years, customers often wish to re-evaluate and change existing relationships is simple because there is no value-add from existing ones. We may be good; but goodness only indicates consistency and meeting agreed and negotiated customer requirements, not exceeding them. To be ahead of the customer requirement, and to agile enough to adapt quickly is the secret sauce in rapidly disruptive digital world. Teachers, Trainers, mentors and facilitators play a lead role in bringing such bleeding-edge transformation.
God bless…
Yours in mortality,

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