Data Warehousing: Business Requirement Interviews

For whatever small amount of experience I have gained, I consider myself blessed enough that all my employers gave me enough opportunities for interviewing people. That’s a fun activity to participate in. And what did I got out of it?
1. Confidence and openness to go and start interacting with a complete stranger.
2. Experience in understanding what exactly person is after and where possible, a little insight towards the psyche of the person.

No wonder it was a great boost to what I have learnt over the course of last eight years. And one thing it has helped me a lot is looking under the skin of problem and to understand who is saying what and why. And that’s where it starts bending towards a business advantage !

But one can be terribly wrong to conclude that conducting interviews is nothing but a “templatized” course of action – with a little variation for Job Interviews and for Business Requirements gathering. No, they are not!

And here’s why I say that when I mention for Business Requirement Gathering interviews:
1. Don’t think you’re too smart, but be curious.
If you hear "Sorry, what’s the question again?" then that probably is a sign you are wrong track. Keep them short, and open ended. Pick at any interview published in a good magazine and you will notice, questions are one-liner and answers runs into Para’s. Keep it that ways and listen attentively. Also, don’t get into that "observe it all and truth will surface" syndrome. You aren’t a detective and the person in front of you isn’t a criminal. If you receive conflicting information, you always have a chance to clarify, keep it as an requirement gathering interview, not a cross-examination !
2. Converse honestly
Ask honest questions. Don’t pretend you are one among the "know-it-all" lot. You are there to know things in detail, and not "validate", so talk accordingly. Recording the meetings might not be the best idea as there are many times people mention for it to be kept off-the-record – and hence it breaches the whole idea of the honest conversation.
3. Leave the ego out of the room
There are many times when the client member you are interviewing is half your age. And it might be other way round as well. When you are interviewing, your key job is to listen attentively and keeping your presumptions and prejudices out of the picture. Use body language and verbal clues or gestures to encourage interviewees and express. Your attitude and approach as an interviewer are more important than the tactical and logistical concerns of setting up and conducting the sessions.  your interest.
4. Don’t judge
Concentrate on interviewee’s job and not if it’s right or wrong! If all goes well, DW/BI will address the issue anyways. Avoid jumping onto conclusions just on hearing a one-liner for a process, listen and find, there might be some genuine reasons for the way things are.

Especially, if you are going towards DW/BI or any large scale data application (e.g. Cloud Solutions) business requirements gathering, you might want to consider these as well:
- Its always best to have a lead in place with clear objectives and experience on the topic. Have a lead requirements analyst with the right tools, confidence and coupled with the right knowledge on business acumen and DW/BI’s potential. You don’t want somebody who himself is questioning if it really will reap the benefits as it "sounds". And this “lead” should own to clearly define the beginning and closure of specific stages of the project.
- Involve the right business representatives representing BOTH vertical (cross-management ranks) and horizontal (cross-department) perspectives. Don’t rely solely on the input from a lone power analyst who’s a pseudo-IT professional. Yes, the power dynamics is a key topic in management, and it might help you in getting a deal signed but it surely wont help in getting it executed successfully !
- Don’t presume you already know what the business wants just because you’ve supported them for the past decade. No business are same, and so is true for their requirements as well.
- Be explicit at what you will be delivering against. We have always learnt in Software Engineering that there is something called Explicit and Implicit requirements. See each "implicit" requirement as a loop hole where someone has a chance to bring you down to your knees. Convert them so they are explicit and then sign off as appropriate.
- Your delivered product and your mode of delivery are two separate pieces, and shall be addressed separately. The problem with long running engagements (as likes of DW/BI) is that we are so much lost in actual product that we loose concentration on modes of delivery. If not right away, ensure you have space defined to capture modes / frequencies / mechanics of deliveries as well. 
- If yourself feel comfortable to see your doctor in person, then same will be true for your clients too. Get face-to-face with business representatives (or at least voice-to-voice, but that too once you have rapport built up). There are many other modes of gathering requirements, and though they might be okay to find where your team wants to party, but that’s not enough to know where your clients want to reach.
- Be prepared, and try your best to impart some knowledge before you actually start with catching requirements. Prepare interviewees in advance so you don’t have to spend the time recursively at conceptually explaining "what’s DW/BI (or something similar and basic).

Corporate Social Responsibilities and The Art of Living

February 24, 2012 1 comment

Corporate Responsibilities, Social Responsibilities et all are deemed to be very heavy terms. You speak of them and all of sudden the air is heavy, and everybody seems serious. It’s a sense of corporate self-control built into a business model over a period of time. A fair deal of documentation can be referenced here if you like.

And then, there’s The Art of Living. Relaxed, without much of worries, and with a sense of detachment. Though one thing that Art of Living doesn’t teach is to walk away from the trouble and challenging times, and specifically of blaming others for your problems. But sadly Indian Corporate system is seeing a mess of senses of Corporate Social Responsibilities and that of the Art of Living. Am talking of Kingfisher Airlines and Mallya’s here.

The name “Mallya” indeed has now become a synonym to likes of: luxury, lavishness, loud (in good way), swanky life style etc. The name brings to you images of ultra-mod ladies as Flight Stewards and Calendar portraits, theme parties on just every occasion, Tipu Sultan’s Sword, Formula One Racing, glamour studded IPL matches, expensive bars and what not.

And think of Kingfisher Airlines now. Think of its Pilots, Support and ground staff who might not have received salaries for some time by now. Think of their suppliers who might be in trouble for their long dues on the Airliner – not just Fuel suppliers, banks, Air Traffic Controllers etc – but also likes of spare, transporter and food suppliers, who are very small to put any sort of pressure on an “air liner”. Image is indeed dull and uninspiring as of now. Almost every single Government body is after Kingfisher for its dues. And don’t forget the Aircrafts its using are on lease / rent, not purchased.

Every business (just like an individual) can have a low and high. But amidst of all this, what surprises is the fact that someone as rich as like Vijay Mallya is not doing much about it but blaming others. Pick up every single of his last few statements on the topic and you will find accusations on Air Traffic Controllers, Banks, Fuel Prices, Income Tax etc. Why? If one is responsible enough, he would pay taxes on time. If one has planned well, he would keep some buffers in the costing and would settle out dues in orderly manner. Talk of competition, but is the “price” only weapon to compete. For example, Kingfisher isn’t among the one considered to be very cheap – yet people preferred it many times. True story, I once travelled back from Chennai to Delhi in large size Air India flight, with hardly 25 passengers !

Still, imagine you have a loan of say INR 30Lacs and you go to bank saying you cant pay interest for next one year or more for any reason. Chances are bank will kick you first, then slash a NPA on you, and might even set up your loan to Auction for recovery. That’s when you are paying all dues on time and have a dependent family. But Banks are generous enough to large corporations like Kingfisher. They are at brink of losing their lending to Kingfisher, and now deciding to lend more so that the bad news can be deferred or delayed for some time. I think what Income Tax Department has done recently is very right. If you haven’t paid in past, without any intimation, then one has all right to doubt you for future as well.

Indeed the Air Traffic Industry is not in very good state. But when companies like Air India and Kingfisher Airlines demand for Government bail outs, they basically are asking for money that Income Tax Payers have paid. Basically, you think we should first pay for our travel so you are profitable, and then pay to keep you afloat just because you couldn’t manage the “variables” in your business. How about Kingfisher and Air India offering discounts to general masses in lieu of the funds received despite being a NPA now !?

Well, if you really want to settle this out, this is how you do it – you work for it. Start skipping the parties, and concentrate on your business. Your socializing is good enough only till the time you are King of Good Times. If no body is getting seen along side with you in your troubled times, then that’s a strong sign. World might not be too difficult to live if we don’t have Kingfisher Airlines or Air India in it, but this jolt might act against the other businesses too. Accept that, and try again to be what we (at least I) have always admired you for – own it up and deliver. Try to understand the true Art of Living. Corporate Social Responsibilities are part of it and not otherwise !

Data Warehousing : Watch out what you Commit !

February 23, 2012 Leave a comment

So what all did you promised while selling that hefty Data Warehousing solution? And was it just a promise, or over-promise? :)
Its not uncommon for people to say "We will ensure you have..":
- Rolling operational results mapped to the general ledger (GL)
- An effective compliance for the end-to-end system
- Key performance indicators (KPIs) are identified and implemented as needed by client facing departments like Sales, Marketing, Finance etc. And more importantly, they will all go "into" performance dashboards
- All the customer facing operational processes integrated into one single application / screen (and by the way, this mostly goes unimplemented!).
- All backend, frontend and operations tools will be brought under single licensing control to ease off the licensing procedures
- Server virtualization will be implemented for the DW/BI system. And this new system will be "green." (and both, are seldom understood clearly in DW/BI context)
- Storage management for the DW/BI system made completely automated (auto-extension, auto-allocation, auto-archival and what not!).
- Security rules, roles and responsibilities clearly identified and implemented (and then admin’s made capable of peeking into every single record).
- Long term archiving and recovery requirements for data looking forward 20 years.

If you look at any of the DW books/ toolkits, they talk about the processes and workflow which comprise likes of requirement gathering, designing, delivery, validations etc. But its pivotal to understand that they all are done with a manual intervention and that’s where art (and problem) creeps in. Watch out for what you commit. And remember that principle at every single phase of your delivery.

Right Place, Right Time

January 9, 2012 2 comments

While I was walking out today morning to catch my office cab, I noticed the usual mendicant-young-boy. He doesn’t match with usual beggars or anything like that; he walks with some ingenuity, dignity, seldom talks, and mostly talks of either good doings and/or gods. I have seen him growing, have seen him visiting our streets several times.

What’s so special about it?

I didn’t noticed it much, but this guy doesn’t come along every now and then. He comes on specific days, only on days which hold some mythological values (in India) and when its “said” to be among good values to donate some eatables or household items on those days. This guy calls out importance of these days, and what all is generally guided to be donated on those specific days. He comes almost very early in the morning, I don’t think I have ever seen him around beyond 9 or 10AM.

Now, this guy’s chances of carrying full bags are way much higher than other’s (and he carries a large bag). And simple reason, he spends time to identify what’s the right day and time, and he is around at that time ! And his USP (unique selling proposition) is the information he repeatedly calls out at different common points in a street (and information is mostly re-validated to be always correct by the elder one’s in our family). He is prepared (like many other’s of his kind), but key differentiator is that he tries to be at right place at right time !

There are so many other cases where a person or product has reached great heights just for the reason that it hit right place at right time. There’s a book named Outliers which circumvent around similar idea (though at different intellectual levels obviously!). So, how would one know what’s the right time and right place ? Well, we are far from a formula (at least for now). Till then, follow your heart, be always prepared and look for patterns that you can make use of. Chances are that you too would know the right time and place which is right for your success !

Handling Challenging Times…

Everybody talks of Industry been through tough and challenging times recently, and progressing into another slow down. But that’s too vast a situation. But I believe in thinking individually. You either have a job at hand or don’t. And you either enjoy the job at hand or don’t. Statistics and percentages are for Government, and they are never out of their paying job !

Problems also creep in when you are doing something “un-enjoyable” for a long slot. Chances are you wont do your best, with peers and/or leads being unhappy about it. Now, that’s too challenging / rough times in a way – you being into something that you don’t like, and which you don’t have much control upon !

What do you do then? Start saying no to everything that comes your way (that you don’t want)? Or, Switch? Well here’s the news. Switch doesn’t happen over-night. And with you saying no, chances are you would soon be shown the way out, or worst, be put on to PIP (performance improvement plan).

From aforementioned context, seems odds are all lined up against you (or who-so-ever been in such state). Well; no, that’s not the case. You have some good options which you can try:

1. Remind yourself that its just a patch and will sooner or later be over. As an employee you always have an option to quit, but real joy is in succeeding against all the odds ! Think about the fact what you would have done if you owned the “task” as its real owner.

2. Remind yourself that what you are delivering is probably not your best. And that, there are people who would be ready to do the same job, and yet it will be an upgrade for them (in some cases at least).

3. Talk about the situation with someone who can do something about it. Don’t warm up your phone receivers, or spill coffee in the corridors cribbing about what you are doing and how bad it is. They can’t do anything about it ! And believe me, same message would be something else when it eventually reaches someone who should have been approached in the first instance.

4. Take some time out, at least weekly if not daily. Go over your “wow” moments from the past. Remind yourself that people did appreciated you and your work. And if that happened, chances are that it happened because you took interest in what you were doing. And importantly, remember that if you can “fake” your interest to yourself, you would be back bang-on. 

5. Dont miss out any opportunity to take time off, not deliberate or sick-time-off’s (unless genuine obviously). Enjoy your time. Its generally being said (but hardest to follow), keep your love-life and work-life separate. That’s a really good thing if you can manage for that, atleast attempt at it (its another story though that am till struggling for this last statement). Spend time with your loved one’s. Spend time with someone who appreciates your time – be it from family or at any charity. You will cherish such moments, I can really tell you that !

Now, I am not a Psychologist or an HR pro talking about it. Am talking from my own experiences (Yes, am open to admit that I had some challenging times too, am sure everyone had). And am sure there are more good things that people (i.e. You) would have tried themselves. I will be obliged if you have anything to add to the listing.

Interact, In Person.

November 21, 2011 2 comments

Social Media. Big Data Analytics. Marketing. Word of Mouth. SEO. In-Person Interaction.

Out of all above, what is it that would have decisive impact on what you choose at anything like:

- school your kids would go to

- that charismatic site for your first (or any number in fact) house/shop/workshop/factory

- Term or Medical Insurance for your life

- Marriage Material ! ;-D

Today’s world is full of noises when it comes to finding inputs when you want to reach a decision. Information is money, that’s rightly said. But what does it lead to in end. SEO are a paid services. Social Media is sponsored. Big Data Analytics and inferences are based upon funding by big-players. Word of mouth can be a good starter, but rest all (except in-person interaction) are inputs that you may consider, but cant rely. In the end, for key decisions, which matter to your or your loved one’s happiness – are based on In-Person Interaction.

Word Of Mouth indeed makes a difference. BUT, why should I purchase an house from a builder where Sehwag (an Indian Cricketer) is saying its wonderful and reliable. No, I cant, I wont.

Now, it may not be required for each and every thing (e.g. you wouldn’t want to meet chef who originated Chip’s recipe), but you definitely would like to have a word with chef who is going to cook for your beloved in the evening when you are going to propose! For things that are important, remember to interact, in person. Spent some time with your clients, peers, friends, family, so they can make a decision which supports you – financially and otherwise. And trying doing it in person. When congratulating, give them a call. When celebrating, inviting them or join them. When in grief, be around (even if speechless). Even in today’s virtual world, its important to – Interact, In Person.

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What Can We Learn From Manmohan Singh?

August 26, 2011 2 comments

No. This Post is not about Economics or Finance or Corruption. And, am not an Economist or a Finance guy. Not even a Politics enthusiast or critique for that matter. Am just a common man who wish to learn from common mistakes of those who were on top and fell straight back on their face – just because of small yet terrible mistakes !

Our current Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, is one such person. One might say that its too early for me to say that he has fallen. But if you have kept a tab on where he was in 90’s, and 2K era, to where his rapport is today – I bet you would agree with me. He was considered to be leading the Eco-Socio-reforms/ strategies think-tank within India. And today, even a small school going kid can mute him with his agitation and questions (but obvious, he is anyways on mute most of the times).

In my opinion, here are few things we can learn on what-not-to-do from Dr. Manmohan Singh. If you think there is anything substantial missing, then please write back and I will incorporate it.

1. Know your limits

Manmohan Singh, by profession, is a Specialist, in Finance and Economics. He was an excellent Economic and Strategy Consultant to the Governments of India. One who can stand aside, un-involved, dissect the financials data and stats, and suggest back what’s best thing to do within available constraints. His domain was best constrained within precision, numbers and statistics. And then he dodged himself into subjective, illusionary and petty Political Leadership. And not just a small department or a small project – but to lead the entire nation’s governance. In a state of its kind – India. He must have been fooling himself if he didnt knew what he was getting into. He was not much capable of balancing the act between different Ministries while he was owning Finance Ministry – and that’s a known fact. And if nothing else, the scams which happened when he was managing Nation’s Finances are a strong sign!

2. What comes as a Surprise, Goes as a Surprise

Its well known (at least, strongly rumoured) that Sonia Gandhi was to take the Prime seat after last elections. Its the Legislative Council/team of the group which called out that letting a foreign national sit on highest seat in Electoral System wont go well and might get into Judiciary clauses. And what happened next was shear History ! Pratibha Patil for President’s position, and Manmohan Singh for Prime Minister’s position. In my short career of seven years I have come across many people at wrong places, where they dont belong or not worthy of, but nothing matches what we see today in Indian Political Leadership ! If you are an Indian, ask yourself, or anyone around you and am sure you wont be surprised to know why highest positions have lost their capacity, dignity and respect today ! Manmohan Singh himself (and many others in political system) must have been surprised to see him taking the prime seat. And am sure that Manmohan is equally surprised with what has happened in last two quarters to take away all his life’s worth and credibility away from him!

3. Know your Team

In recent happenings, Kapil was let out in open to “negotiate” with Anna Jee and his movement. Why !? Before Kapil, I would rather doubt Manmohan Singh’s own consciousness on what he was playing for by empowering Kapil Sibal to take charge in such a situation ? You can’t expect a Coal Miner to be turned into a farmer overnight, right? Coal Miner’s love is to remain in dark and to remain black, he simply cant work with the upper crust of his field land that can lead to blossom! Manmohan and his team didnt learnt it from Baba Ramdev Jee’s movement, it was their first. OK. What about Anna Jee’s movement then, where the same group has failed twice already!

And when I say “Know your Team”, I meant for knowing strength and shortfall, both, of your team. Manmohan Singh is leading a team carrying some live stocks, who till date boast for scams like of 2G, CWG, Madhu Koda Money Laundering, Hasan Ali, Cash for Vote, and more. Telecom scam has surfaced twice this time round, both in leadership of Congress. Manmohan had been an Economist himself, he feels proud to be called upon with DOCTOR attached to his name for work done in Economics and Financial Management Practices, its beyond suspicion that he was never aware that his peers are cooking up the books!

I wonder, given the think-tank he loved to be part of, if he really didnt thought for once – why a common Indian isnt receiving the benefits what he is rightful for, and from where all his MLAs and MPs, and even the “damaad” of Gandhi fraternity has become Billionaire over a span of only few years – and that too in his self-proclaimed “clean” stint of 20+ years in Politics. He agreed to lead his current team who had a history of nothing but shame, and now he simply can’t step back saying am clean! If you were clean, then you should have had dragged your team’s dead meat out in open and should have refused to ignore their wrong-doing’s. Just like how APJ Abdul Kalam jee did. He was the first ever President of India, who was physically fit, intellectually superior to your complete lot put together. And yet he was brought down to give way to Pratibha Patil. How was it in India’s interest, and how was it respectful to the First Citizen of India at that time?

If Manmohan didn’t knew his team and what they are upto – then Manmohan Singh failed as a Leader. If Manmohan did knew his team (which my gut feel says, he was) and yet kept mum, then Manmohan Singh isnt clean and is equally responsible for corruption charges brought out against his team members !

4. Know when to call Quits

Since school, we have learnt that real men fight! They fight till death, and never call Quits ! If that’s for his mother nation’s or individual’s life and pride, yes, that’s how a man should live. But that’s where it logically should end.

For one like of Manmohan Singh, it doesn’t suite for him to be a Sardar (the entire community of which is considered to be rightful, truthful and pride in their ancestry) and yet be watching all what’s happening and not be doing anything about it. Its said that a Sardar can bring more glory then hundred enemies put together. But sadly he didn’t proved it when entire nation was looking upto him ! I don’t want to communalize this post by saying so – I have utter respect for anyone who respects and loves India, as much as I do. And, I just hope that some of my peers and friends don’t feel offended because I still think Manmohan Singh is a Sardar, somewhere, if not at core. Really, call out one good reason why Manmohan is standing in way of what this country and its masses need today. Why Manmohan is becoming the shield and shelter to the Corrupts and the Gandhi’s. Gandhi fraternity in today’s leadership is and will remain biggest blot on India’s future, but what stops Manmohan today. Entire nation is standing with Anna for what’s right, why not Manmohan ! He too comes from masses only ! One might say that he is protecting and balancing the Democratic System – but what System is it if a mass of more than 2 crore has formally declared to be supporting Anna Jee, and there are crores-and-crores of more who haven’t hit the roads as yet, but are supporting the Anti-Corruption Movement just like anyone else! Its true, that for some fights, you have to call quits first. India’s independence followed the movements from Shaheed Bhagat Singh, and a “Quit India” movement from Gandhi Jee. Subhash Chandra Bose had to even quit India for the greater interest and goals. Another Quit India movement is in making today, and yet Manmohan failed to realized when he should have called Quit !

5. Nothing lasts forever, except for your Values

Whole India seems to be standing besides Anna Jee today. Ever wondered why? He is not a MBA from IIMs or Harvard or Oxford, specializing in Leadership or Entrepreneurship. He is not born to any billionaire or Politician or some god-like figure (Buddha!?).

Its his values!

In last two quarters, petty Political parties have done everything to defame Anna Jee. They cursed him, challenged him to prove dignity, even man-handled him before on-going movement. And yet, this man stood by his values! Values are like meditation, more you see them getting practiced, more you are attracted to them. And in contrast to it, we have mind-boggling bureaucracy and governance system, and utter Politicians themselves. And guess who’s standing taller than ever? Guess who’s feeling more energetic – the one aged 74yrs, fasting since last 11 days or those feasting at PMs house in name of Iftaar!?

Our current constitution was defined by a great man (Baba Bhimrao Ambedkar). And then, some not-so-men-kind, got into power to sit in Parliament and defined laws in ways so they can do anything they like. And from last 60+ years, common masses of India are made to believe that Constitution is something Alien! That it cant be changed for them, but can be changed for those sitting in Parliament, and in just no time! The only trouble for Manmohan is that in past, such anti-corruption movement either didnt arise or they were settled out smartly (or rather, politically). In his utter Leadership, this topic was loud then ever. And reasons are obvious. Masses are done with what’s going on. Tax, Income, Expenses, Inflation, Corruption – everything has soared up, except for quality and just of common man’s life.

But Manmohan and his team has forgotten one thing – Nothing lasts forever; not you, not this continent, not the political power, AND not even the Constitution behind which they are attempting for an hide ! Even the Sun has to set everyday, and will as well vanish one day, what are the chances of this System then !

So, every occasion when you find yourself empowered or over-powered, remind yourself if your action leads to something that will last forever. And if it doesn’t, then be ready for a change !

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