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Dilbert on Product Strategy

Early in my career  – I realized that there are really two groups which yank a Product Manager’s (PM)  chain – Engineering and (or) Sales. I remember sitting for 14 hours in a meeting debugging a “memory leak” issue for a Japanese Customer…Sales walked away shaking their heads saying – Customer will terminate the contract M-san (killing me softly, if you please) and Engineering giving me a “ you are crazy” stare and the comment – You should have pushed back harder…fast forward 2 months we (Engineering Dude and me) are drinking sake bombs with the very sales team which threatened a contract termination the issue got fixed 4 weeks later than promised (but the customer got the patch on time…thank god for my 4 weeks buffer)…and the customer provided us with a strong reference which helped us win multiple other deals.. Here are the lessons I learnt from that exercise –

  1.  A PM is never in control but it’s ok to pretend to be in control
  2. Two relationships in the product world impact a PM profoundly – your relationship with the guy that sells your product and the guy who builds your product…
  3. There is usually a mismatch between what is being delivered ( by Engineering) and what is being demanded (by Sales). A PM pretends to have a magic wand which magically makes all things map and match (yeah! right!) — Jokes apart, it is a balancing act to ensure that Sales is able to sell what Engineering builds.
  4. However, despite all the chaos — there  needs to be a  hunger, a passion and a need to be that someone who drives the team to  build and create something that solves a key customer need (a product manager) vs. someone who acts as the caretaker for release planning by simply gathering up defects, urgent enhancement requests, leftovers from the previous versions (a product janitor)
  5. Reality however is if we get caught up in the mundane  day-to-day tactics we sometimes lose sight of the bigger picture…the constant squabbles between Sales and Engineering with the PM playing mediator brings forth an “unloved child” (of course the product or service)

In the words of Steve Jobs ” You need a very product-oriented culture… Lots of companies have great engineers and smart sales people. …..there needs to be some gravitational force that pulls it all together” 

My spin on that is I believe the product manager is that gravitational pull — the person who understands what Sales and customers are telling them and being able to translate them into tangible requirements for Engineering…when this is achieved it is no longer an unholy love triangle but an unbeatable triad (hey…no negative connotations here!)

Leaving work aside for a minute…as I sat today staring at the computer – eyes burning, back aching, the neck spasms threatening to come back, the rumbles in the tummy reminding me that there was a dinner to be cooked. I see the Facebook update from friends galore on trips to Bahamas, Hawaii, India …you get the drift. There is no vacation in my short-term planning horizon, so I close my eyes and visualize Alaska….my wonderful cruise from last August…the smell of the sea, the sumptuous 7 course meals, the whales and dolphins cavorting by the ship, the bear cub and creek seething with Salmon, the serene Mendenhall Glacier, the awe-inspiring fjords…when I open my eyes I feel refreshed and ready to cook dinner…I could use a real vacation real soon though!

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When my son’s homework came in this week with the following brochure…

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my first reaction was — oh! no…when am I going to get the time to climb this Mt. Everest (with the daily grind and constant deadline that life has become). Yet, the more I looked at this brochure the more I felt like this is a topic close to my heart…K2 is the person who made me change in ways that seem dramatic even to me :

Picture this – the week before I learnt about K2, I was on a plane travelling to 4 continents ( New Zealand -SFO-London-Mumbai-Singapore-SFO), life for me was portfolio reviews, customer meetings, really nice dinners after customer meetings, nice dinners with K1 in the weekend and of course counting the career rungs climbed and the number left to climb, breakfast skipped, dinner out sourced, no 401 K….you get the picture…I loved my life and yet that year, I knew I was ready to be a “mother”…what exactly that meant I didn’t know.

K2 was overdue two days — all I remember of my pregnancy was how easy he made it for me — I worked till the last day and K2 graciously waited till the weekend morning to announce his presence…I won’t say K2’s  entry was an easy one — it was damnably one of the hardest things I have had to do in my life (and as usual K2 preferred doing things in reverse…in this case feet first)…for the first time in my life I felt out of control and I was ok with it. When I held my little boy I oscillated between sheer panic and sheer exhilaration…the acceptance that life as I knew it had changed came months later.

K2 : You put things into balance in my life, you made me acknowledge what was really important and you make my life more complete…

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My hope for you is that you enjoy and cherish every moment of life because everything fades beyond the  fact that you live once…be that kite that flies freely and fearlessly in the sky and I will try not to be afraid of the great heights and be the anchor that you can always come back to…you taught me what “unconditional love” and being a mother really means and for that I Thank You!

It has been an odd sort of a couple months : my blog had been stagnating and I had been bugging A to give me ideas on how to redesign and bring joie de vivre back to this passion of mine. He told me to talk to the hand till I persisted in using Blogger and that I needed to move to WordPress. I resisted (like I resist most change)…then I researched intensely (loved this blog post on Word Press vs. Blogger) and finally made the decision to say Goodbye to Blogger and Hello to WordPress…

Reality is that WordPress has moved way past Blogger in terms of innovation, widgets, design and usability. I look forward to this new journey and I hope you will join me in it…How apt is the song by Beatles:

What are your weekend plans? I am planning to laze, enjoy good food and get some family and yoga time in.

I feel like giving up. Almost everyday in fact. Not all day of course,  but there are moments…no I am not a manically depressed woman, venting every moment I get in blogosphere…this was the first sentence of a small  book that I started reading yesterday… here’s how it played out –
I have been busy the past eight weeks, tired too and mostly not put together (which is unlike me)…Things got a little hectic this week and I forgot to sign K2 up for PTO (parent’s night out) and we had no plans in place anyway…on Wednesday K2 asked me if I had signed and I sheepishly admitted to – not, his indignant look followed by disappointment (he believes it should be parents/kids time out vs. just PTO) was enough impetus for me to somehow wrangle him into the PTO…this left me and K1 with 5 unplanned hours — initially our plan was to watch a Hindi movie (amc mercado if you are interested) and get some Desi food …but once in the house, neither wanted to move…so dinner was an easy naan pizza washed down with a Muscat while watching an offbeat German movie Soul Kitchen (on Netflix…). A and K got engrossed in a market discussion that I wanted no part of, so I migrated upstairs and started reading “The Dip”…my sole criteria for picking it being the size (76 pages)…and I was hooked. It wasn’t an earth-shattering book yet it made me question my internal belief system…
 

For a person who lived with the mantra “failure is not an option” – hearing someone say -that you will never be the best in anything unless you learn to quit intelligently — felt just wrong. However, I didn’t stop reading the book and it started making a lot of sense – I started my career working at GE in India and Jack Welch was a legend there  – When Jack Welch remade GE, the most fabled decision he made was this: If we can’t be #1 or #2 in an industry, we must get out. Why sell a billion-dollar division that’s making a profit quite happily while ranking #4 in market share? Easy. Because it distracts management attention. It sucks resources and capital and focus and energy. And most of all, it teaches people in the organization that it’s okay to not be the best in the world. Jack quit the dead ends. By doing so, he freed resources to get his other businesses through the Dip.”… isn’t that what quitting strategically is all about?  I am sure I will go back and read and re-read this book…it came to me at  a time when I needed it.

How is your weekend turning out? I watched my little guy play a Tee-Ball game and the sun is shining brightly outside, a relaxed lunch of pupusas at Amelia …maybe a long relaxed walk in the evening. No fixed plans for Sunday — maybe sit in the library for an hour and a stroll down the Farmer’s Market…

Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things.

                                                                                                                        —-Winston Churchill
I have some grand illusions that there are people actually reading this blog and when there is no post for ten days someone actually misses it…reality check M..the only person reading your blog is probably you, your dad, K1 (after you remind him) and you (wait…you already said that). Winter and the rainy season is not a good time for me — the sun makes me smile while the rain makes me grumpy…and the last 3 weeks have been very generous with the water works. To make it worse my viral fever gave me neck spasms (think doctors, muscle relaxants, pain killers…and something called a Chiropractor…tried even that twice)…the pain in my neck continues (now you know why I was staring at you from an ackward angle…it wasn’t you it was me). The sun has been out the past two days and I have been pretty laidback about getting dinner on the table, focusing on walks with the 2K’s. So our dinner menu read something like :

  1. Monday : Annie Chun Udon Noodles with tonnes of vegetables
  2. Tuesday : Veggie Pizza from Costco (my first pizza from Costco and pretty damn good)
  3. Wednesday : Take Out from Tava Palo Alto (Thanks A !!!)
  4. Thursday : South Indian – Sambhar, Rice, Cabbage Poriyal, Bhindi Fry (all made by your’s truely)
  5. Friday : leftovers I guess

Last weekend, I was feeling down and out and what perked me up was a super simple “Chinese Soup”…this is my version of it and it is awesome and awesomely simple to make (don’t judge me for the shortcuts…) but I know you will thank me when you have a hot bowl of soup in front of you in less than 10 minutes.

You will need:

  • Half a red onion or handful of scallions ( I used what I had on hand which was red onions)
  • Chopped Fresh Garlic (about half a head)
  • Annie Chun’s Chicken Pot Stickers 
  • Imagine Chicken Broth (low sodium, organic)
  • Shitake Mushrooms (about 4 oz)
  • Bok Choy (about 4-5 big ones or half a dozen little ones)
  • Shredded Carrots ( Trader Joes)
  • Rice Vinegar, Soy Sauce, Chilli Sauce (if you want it)

Saute the onion and garlic in a neutral oil.Add the mushrooms, bok choy, shredded carrots and fry for maybe 2 minutes. Now add in the broth  and the dumplings. Simmer for 5 minutes, add soy sauce and rice wine vinegar to taste…go easy on the chilli sauce if you are recovering from a viral flu :-)…Take a huge bowl, spoon and start slurping…

This recipe goes out to The Spanish Wok for the The Soup Kitchen Event : Chinese Soup

What are your plans for Earth Day?

Life in my world is “black or white”….not too many shades of greys…either things are right or wrong –No two ways about it. Dan Ariely, the behavioral economist was incredibly insightful in one of his blog posts, he stated the results of a psychological test done by Joris Lammers and Adam D. Galinsky  – “when power (or lack thereof) was legitimate, the powerful also exhibited moral hypocrisy (being less moral themselves but judging others more harshly), while the powerless weren’t – just as before. But when power (or lack thereof) was illegitimate, the powerful didn’t show hypocrisy. In fact, the moral hypocrisy effect not only disappeared but was reversed, with the illegitimate powerful becoming stricter in judging their own behavior and more lenient in judging the others.”

This week had been a slow journey to recovery…two visits to the Chiropractor ( this is a first !), endless hours in front of the computer working and mostly dates with ice packs and hot water bottles(blame it on a spasmed neck )…I was looking forward to the weekend with a lot more enthusiasm than most weeks…I spent Friday evening with K2 baking some amazingly light vanilla cupcakes (with almond milk and coconut butter). On Saturday morning after breakfast waffles made with an innovative “Batter Blaster“…I baked a batch of sinfully rich triple chocolate walnut brownies….in this case it didn’t matter if it was black or white…both tasted equally awesome.

We lazed around the house – our neighbors daughter J came over and played with K2 some and then for lunch we decided to head over to “Tava Indian Kitchen“. A month back over a bowl of veggies and string bean chicken at Panda Express, A, K and I were discussing the “perfect” Indian restaurant that will fill a need in the US of A…almost an ala Panda Express or Chipotle…imagine my surprise when I saw that concept actually recreated by a bunch of young, enthusiastic and I think majorly cerebral did I say …young uns ( they came by to ask us how the food was and for feedback : mine was add a kid’s meal — it’s no fun sharing my bowl with K2). The food concept is fabulously simple…pick your base (rice bowl, salad bowl, bur-roti), pick your protien (paneer, chicken, lamb), pick your sauce ( tikka, lentils), add in the fresh veggies and your spice chutney (mild, medium, spicy, lava) — if you so please make it a combo with (mango lassi or a soda) and naan chips. A and I loved the concept and the food — K1 thought the food still needed more of an “Indian identity” and more indian flavors. K2 finished up all his mango lassi. While we were lazing around barking orders to K2 to drink less lassi and eat more food — we watched the steady line of people streaked in Holi colors walk in for food…and then sitting behind us eating his rice bowl was no one other than Dan Ariely…was that predictably irrational or unpredictably rational…whatever it was, I was mighty happy to see one of the people I heard on Ted Talks in person enjoying a rice bowl at Tava just like me….how is your weekend turning out? Isn’t the sunshine gorgeous?

I wonder why it has to be “sick as a dog“…not a cat, rat, parrot or a chimpanzee…actually wait a minute, given “J’s” close encounters of the parasital kinds in Feb and all the TLC we have given to get that sick ol’ guy back on his 4 feet…maybe it kinda sorta makes sense. In this case the “sick as a dog” describes me (and A – my visiting brother). Here’s what happened…”B” was down from India…partied much (or that’s my version and I stand by it) passed the virus something to A that he oh! so lovingly just had to share with his beloved sister “M” (yes me…the resulting BAM! is still resounding in the back aches, the coughs and the voice lost and the ever-friendly viral fever…not really willing to leave for good)…
Work load hasn’t eased up and I really don’t expect it to ease up oh! for at least the next 12 months…joys of working on a 1.0 release and all that ( reality is I love it and wouldn’t have it anyother way…) but this darn viral flu thingie is pulling me down…I am shuffling like an old hag, haven’t cooked till today (don’t ask me how we survived Subway, some unappetizing one-pot rice thing I called Khichidi, Panda Express, Trader Joes, Whole Foods and one good meal cooked by A when he was feeling a little better….joys of having a spouse who REALLY can’t cook). Anyway, I was ready for a comfort meal today (and it ain’t happening in my kitchen without me moving….), so I made something simple in 20 minutes…it may be frowned on by ANDI for the lack of so-called immunity building stuff….BUT I savored every bite of it…so go figure !!!

Here’s what I did :

  1. Boiled a pound of white potatoes+ 2 cups of rice in a pressure cooker (if you have a super big PC, great you can do both together at one go) – 5 minutes
  2. Squeeze 2 big Meyer Lemons
  3. Peel the white potatoes and cube
  4. Keep the following things on hand : Raw Peanuts, Curry Leaves (fresh)
  5. For Tadka : Hing, Mustard, Urad Dal
  6. Salt to taste

In the wok (and I used just one) :-

For the potatoes :
  1. Add Oil, about 1 tablespoon (try using a neutal one)
  2. Add hing when the oil is hot and then add the mustard and urad dal. When the tadka is dancing in the wok, then hit it with the curry leaves followed by 1/2 teaspoon of Turmeric and 1/2 teaspoon of Red Chili Powder (reduce it if you have a wimpy spice tolerance level )
  3. Add the potatoes. Cook for 10 minutes  or till potatoes go crispy on the edge like in the picture
  4. Salt to taste

For the Lemon Rice :

  1. Add Oil, about 1 tablespoon (try using a neutal one)
  2. Add hing when the oil is hot and then add the mustard and urad dal. When the tadka is dancing in the wok, then hit it with the curry leaves followed by 1/2 teaspoon of Turmeric and the raw peanuts
  3. When the peanuts are cooked through, add in the lemon juice
  4. Add in the rice
  5. Salt to taste
Dinner was done in 20 minutes….truth be told it exhausted me but my stomach thanks me now. Comfort for me right now is the warmth of my bed on this cold day…a simple yet fulfilling meal…a hug shared with my son….a conversation with loved ones…
Comfort for me…something I keep running back to time and again is this book A had got almost 30 years back in school…which I have kept…it is a “shloka” book. Every time I need to quiet the mind or bring it some comfort, I pick it up and read it and I find comfort…it has along with prayers, this treasury of sayings and I share one with you –
What is defeat? Nothing but education, nothing but the first step to something better…
This blog post goes to Kirthi’s Kitchen for her event Serve it – Stir Fried — an event ideated by Denny who aptly says “We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection” and to Sravani for her event : Vegan Diet
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