Getting the most out of review meetings

Yesterday night, I helped a couple of colleagues prepare for reviewing their deals with their line management. And today morning I spent some time reviewing a couple of deals with my team. Perhaps the largest category of meetings in the corporate world is “reviews” – be it deals, career, special assignments or whatever. Having been a reviewee and a reviewer several times, and having been in both good and terrible reviews, I thought I should jot down a few thoughts on this topic.

group of people in a meeting

Photo by on

For the reviewee

  • Have no fear : This is absolutely the key to having a good review. Bad reviews are most often a result of fear. Reviewers often (not always) know way less about the topic at hand than you do – which is why they asked you to work on it in the first place. If they sense you have some fear, they often think that is because you have not done a good job thinking through the problem. So someone will start poking at your POV and then the herd mentality will kick in and soon they are all jumping on your throat. Don’t let that happen – walk in prepared. And call out risks and open questions explicitly. Ask for additional help as needed. Tell them what you have already done before asking for help. Do whatever you need to do up front to prepare – except pls don’t EVER resort to lies – and it will pay off in spades. Also, if you develop a reputation for coming to reviews well prepared, you will have their confidence and reviews will start getting more pleasant for you.
  • Know what a good outcome is before you walk in :  

    “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
    “That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.”
    “I don’t much care where –”
    “Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.”― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland 

    The success of a good meeting is in knowing what a good outcome looks like. It could range from you living to fight another day all the way to getting funding approved for a key project. If you don’t know what you want from the meeting and leave it to just play out – the odds are that you will end up with a result you won’t like, or at a minimum asked to come for another review . When I prepare for a review, I work backwards from what I want out of it to prepare my narrative. When you walk in prepared and without fear – you often pick up things to learn from what the reviewers tell you. That is the highest value of reviews – the learning and tweaking of what you already knew!

  • Always have options : People are unpredictable in generally, and especially so under stress. So all that prep you did might not come in handy when there is someone in the review team who is having a bad day and is hell bent on taking it out on you. In less drastic situations – they still might want to “add value” and you need to leave some room in your solution to incorporate their input. One way to solve this is to pre-determine a couple of areas where you could use some coaching, and explicitly state it in the review. Also – figure out your strategy in case the review goes south. Do you want to ask for another meeting ? Should you enlist the support of a few reviewers before the formal review?
  • Know what is important for the reviewer for the short term : The needs of reviewers change from time to time. You may be reviewing your deal which has great revenue but not the best profit. If your boss needs more profit and not revenue – you probably are not going to score an approval. It helps to know upfront what is important for the reviewers before you craft your narrative. This obviously needs work in terms of networking and homework. But it is time and energy well spent ! One of my worst reviews came in a meeting that I prepared very well for. I was the lead developer and I got ripped a new one for telling them what I did on performance optimization, when the big objective from the CIO was to have more robust testing accomplished in that quarter (which made sense, but I had no idea it suddenly trumped performance problems we were working on) !

For the reviewer

  • Do you actually need to review ? : Life in the corporate world will be infinitely better if reviewers were honest about their answers. Vast majority of such meetings are low calorie or just gamed for optics. Why bother having such meetings? This is especially true the higher you are in the pecking order. Every review you ask for has several people below the hierarchy spending time on intermediate reviews. Can some of it be automated fully or partially ? Is there a standard checklist that can be used to manage by exceptions ? Can the team be better trained and managed to minimize the times you need to review yourself? The idea is to minimize low calorie reviews – and conserve time and energy for where it is needed the most
  • Does the reviewee know what you are expecting ? :  That is not the same as the meeting having an agenda and the presentation following a published template.  It is easy to ask “gotcha” questions. It is usually low value to do so though. When you give someone a problem to solve – tell them what you expect them to come back with ? Are you just looking for information ? Do you want them to make a decision and solve it – or should they bring back options and you will pick one ? Do you want to know if this is the right problem to solve ? Are there any direct consequences to the not solving the problem that you can tell the reviewee about ? How often should they keep you posted on their progress? The more clarity you can provide and the more consistent you are – the more useful these reviews will be for you.
  • Feedback comes in many forms : Not all reviews are about giving an explicit approval to some proposal. One of the most useful things you can do as a reviewer is to also explain how you viewed the review process itself. Could the reviewee improve on something ? Will you change something about the process because you learned something new from the reviewee? Do you engage in an intellectual debate with the reviewee or do you just check boxes ? . Do you follow up on the commitments you both made during the reviews? Do you use reviews as teaching moments? If you want the next review to be great – you need to make the reviewee feel that it was a good use of their time, and not just an administrative activity.

SAP buys Qualtrics – Some quick thoughts

I saw the news on twitter yesterday night that SAP is buying Qualtrics for $8B cash – most of it financed .

I am writing this blog post strictly in my personal capacity and it doesn’t represent my employer’s opinions . I have no prior knowledge of this deal. I have worked in the SAP field for a long time and worked in SAP Labs for a short while as well.

My first reaction was “Wow – that’s an unusually bold move”. But then knowing SAP’s leadership team – I am not surprised they went with a gutsy – and perhaps unconventional- move .

I think SAP was over due for a large acquisition any way – like the BOBJ and Sybase ones. S4Hana seems to be doing very well indeed from what I see in the field, even though the ambitions about HANA itself being a leading general purpose data base by revenue didn’t exactly play out . While there is a lot of talk about Leonardo – it seems to be more of a packaging play than an actual software play. So it makes sense that SAP went for a big acquistion now.

S4Hana is mostly a defensive strategy to keep existing ERP customers within The SAP family . The real battle to be won is on customer and employee facing applications – and perhaps industry verticals .

SAP has long been a proponent of design thinking – and human centric design and all that . Their emphasis on “experience” seems to be something that their customer base seemed to appreciate too – especially with Fiori coming in . SAP obviously has significant IP on business processes as well over decades .

However – SAP has historically not taken a holistic approach to measuring experiences and more importantly the gaps in experiences . That needed custom work in projects if a customer wanted it – be it about customer , product , employee etc . So from that perspective – Qualtrics fulfills a high quality problem .

If there is one competitor out there that SAP badly wants to compete with now – that would be Salesforce. It’s a very large market and one that SAP once had a chance to rule . SAP did make some noise with C4Hana as their primary play and I don’t think that caused Benioff to lose any sleep. Qualtrics may be a useful addition from that perspective – though I doubt even that would get Benioff out of bed and worrying about next steps.

From the press release – I understand that combining experience data from Qualtrics with operational data from SAP is where the value is . I think that’s a fair statement. But for that to be a reality – the differentiation needs to come from specialized algorithms . SAP has bought some small ML companies in the past . If these XM + OM theory needs to be converted into practice – SAP probably needs to buy some more ML companies , hire more PhDs and license more IP – and maybe invest in some large university. All of it can be done and SAP has the money and brand to do it – but that will take time to materialize . I am very curious to see the next steps on this front .

When it comes to integrating existing tech with acquired tech – SAP’s track record is decent but not stellar. BOBJ gave SAP a lot of mileage as an analytics leader. But BOBJ products took a while to work on top of BW , and even today there is plenty of product overlap across their analytics portfolio . Closed loop analytics was a promise that didn’t materialize in a mainstream fashion across SAP portfolio . Sybase was bought with mobile as front and center – but eventually the database part was what proved to be more useful to SAP . SuccessFactors was a good Acquistion too and I first hand know customers who love it – but putting it all on HANA was a promise SAP couldn’t keep for a few years.

What could be different this time is that SAP has two new board members driving this – Enslin from cloud business and Mueller from Tech. If anyone knows how to get things done efficiently in SAP – it’s Rob. Mueller is an up and coming star and has Hasso’s blessings which means a lot in SAP’s engineering and product organization. So I think things may be a lot better this time .

The big question always is whether SAP paid more than it should have. They paid about 20 times the current revenue of Qualtrics. Qualtrics just started making a profit – and it is minuscule . I read they have been cash flow positive which is great of course. I also read that SAP will keep them as an independent business .

I am not exactly sure on the logic here.

It’s not a large earnings number to boost SAP’s numbers. They only have 9000 customers compared to something like half a million for SAP and my guess is that there is significant overlap of customer base . While Cross sell and up sell are always there – it’s still a small pond for SAP to fish. Independence might be needed to keep the acquired team intact, but I can’t see any reason why they won’t be folded in at the first opportunity given the relatively small size of the stand alone business .

Plus the whole value of the acquired tech is in integration with rest of SAP – which also beats the idea of keeping them separate. I don’t know enough about XM to venture a guess on how easy or difficult it will be to integrate with SAP. But that doesn’t worry me as much given the value is in data integration to begin with – and that doesn’t need integrating two platforms . But eventually for developers to get a productive experience – I would think XM seamlessly becomes a part of SAP cloud platform .

Could they have bought other companies for this money and had similar or greater impact ? XM is not unique in its category – survey monkey , Medallia etc are all good considerations too. And I also wonder if nearly the same impact could have been had by SAP buying multiple smaller companies – perhaps with deep ML capabilities , and then building extensive tech partnerships (and/or minority investments ) with the survey vendors .

A lot of assumptions go into modeling such deals and it’s hard to make a judgment from the peanut gallery on whether the price is justified or not . So while I don’t understand the logic fully from the outside – I have the highest regard for SAP leadership, and they are generally fiscally conservative – and hence I believe they arrived at what they thought was a justified price .

I look forward to learning more about this as the transaction closes and SAP makes roadmap announcements.

Sir, there are no foreigners in this apartment !

I was in midtown NY earlier this week and had a coffee with a young immigrant colleague who recently moved there. She asked me “How did you manage to survive here for so long ? I can’t seem to stop tripping over myself every step” . So I told her how my first week in this country played out – a story that might resonate with many others who came to this country at a young age.

I landed here by an Air India flight from Mumbai via London to JFK . And then I had to connect from LGA to Denver , and then by road to Colorado Springs . I must have flown at best 4 times in my life at that time – and never in an international flight. I was 24 at the time .

When I picked up my passport , Visa and $200 from TCS travel desk in India – I got some minimal instructions on what to answer the immigration officer , a warning that my connecting flight is from a different airport and so on . I was also told that if anything is hard to understand in the new place – the best people to ask are the cops in this country !

So I landed at JFK – goosebumps and all that – and the first words I hear from the immigration officer were “Is there anyone left in your village back home or is everyone here already ?”. This was directed to the guy from Guntur ( also from TCS ) who was immediately in front of me in the line . Goose bumps left me in a hurry 🙂

I got out of the airport – and the first guy I saw outside was a friendly Indian guy who told me his name is Hari. His speech went like this “I can take you to LGA – and it will cost you $200. Good thing you saw me – else someone would have cheated you”. I already knew from my research that he is quoting a high amount and decided to walk to the cop who was standing 20 yards from where we were . From the corner of my eyes – I saw Hari running like an Olympic Sprinter. The cop helped me get a cab and it only cost $30 or so to get to my connecting flight .

By the time I landed in Denver , it was really late at night . My manager who was supposed to pick me up hadn’t shown up . I had his phone number – but couldn’t figure out how to call him . Out of nowhere, a Hispanic lady showed up next to me and offered to help . She bought me a coffee, and using the change she got from the cashier – she called my manager from a pay phone , yelled at him at the top of her voice, and gave me the phone . He gave me instructions in a sleepy voice on how to get to Colorado Springs . The lady had already left by the time I turned around to thank her . I am convinced to this date that she was an angel !

In my infinite wisdom, I rented a car – only to find that it has no gear and no clutch ! And I couldn’t figure out how to roll the windows without the manual rotary control either . To make matters worse – for a few miles I drove on the left side of the road till I realized people drive here on the “wrong side”. I drove the car over a median and found my way to Colorado Springs and on to the motel 6 . One thing I vividly remember was a stretch of road where the street names were Arizona , California etc. i was quite impressed that US was so neatly organized that all it took for me to drive to California was to take this well marked street 🙂 .

The receptionist – Mr Patel – gave me a little package with the key and some paperwork and all . When I reached the room , I opened it and found no key in that package . I went back and woke up Mr Patel one more time . He patiently walked me to my room and showed me how to use the key card – which was pure magic to me ! I also couldn’t figure out how to handle the shower to get hot water – so I took bath by filling the ice bucket with hot water from the sink 🙂

The next morning I could not return the car to local Hertz location – after seeing cars whiz past me at 70 MPH. I waited till evening for lesser traffic to get to Hertz, and the manager even kindly waived the late fees . On the walk back to the motel – I waited 15 minutes to cross a Street because I didn’t know I had to press a button for the pedestrian signal to turn on .

First three days, I survived on McDonalds burgers – till a colleague who had been in Colorado for a long time took pity on me and took me home for a home cooked meal . His wife – who cooked that meal – was the second angel I met in 4 days . I don’t remember her name unfortunately, but the ONLY thing I brought back as a gift for someone on my next trip back from India was a Saree for her !

After three days I called my mom in India and told her that USA looked like India – there is no snow like we had seen in movies . It was June ! Snow did come – heavily – in August and I quickly realized it is a lot better to see snow in movies as opposed to dealing with it every day .

Thanks to my dear friend Kasi for sharing this photo of my first snow in Colorado Springs outside our apartment.

That weekend – another colleague invited me and a few other newly arrived young guys to his apartment for lunch. While we were eating, the door bell rang. His wife opened the door and it was a FedEx driver with a package for Mr Stevens . He had the wrong address – so the lady helpfully told the driver “Sir, there are no foreigners here in this apartment . Actually I don’t think there are any foreigners here in this entire community . We are all Indians here” . I will never forget the look on his face 🙂

Problem Solving – what does good look like ?

Few weeks ago, I had dinner with an old friend in India . He is not a technologist and doesn’t have any background in services . We knew each other socially through a common hobby. The last time I saw him was some 25 years ago when I was in college. He asked me what I do in my line of work and the simplest answer I could come up with was “I am a problem solver”. He quite innocently asked me “And are you any good at it?” . We had a good laugh over beers 🙂

The question has stayed on my mind since then . To know if I am any good at it – obviously I need to define what good looks like. So here is what I think what good problem solving looks like – and I would greatly appreciate it if you could add your thoughts and/or challenge my thinking

1. Picking the right problem to solve

We are not short on problems to solve and there isn’t enough time in the day to deal with every problem that comes our way. So it’s critical that we choose which ones have the most impact if we solve them . Often the challenge is to keep reframing a question till you come up with a version that can be solved meaningfully

2. Ownership (or passion?)

The acid test of ownership for me is whether the intent is to find a solution against all odds or to default to find several reasons why the problem can’t be solved . Problems generally don’t age well – so if we don’t tackle them early, we usually are just going to get more grief later. I am not sure if passion is a better term than ownership in this context . The trouble I have with passion here is that I think it often gets in the way of being objective . On the other hand – some of the best solutions happen ONLY because the problem solvers were passionate .

3. Understanding

The difficulty with understanding is not usually a lack of data – but more of our tendency to see only what we want to see. Ability to listen well, poke at it thoughtfully and transfer it to deep understanding is quite hard in practice .

4. Effective dealing with people

All problems have a people angle and people are complex beings. And most problems need multiple people to solve . Every problem gets harder to solve if the problem solver cannot bring together the right people and get them to contribute . With experience , most of us become efficient about doing this – email , conference calls , slack etc all help. But are we really effective though ?

5. Structure

While we all like one grand solution to each problem – the reality is that most problems have multiple solutions . What’s right for short term may not be right for long term for example . If we don’t have a framework ( like perhaps MECE ) to solve problems – it’s hard to know when to stop. The flip side issue is that every framework has limitations too and overlooking those can be disastrous in some cases . Net net – some framework is better than no framework

6. Knowing when to stop

At some point – all solutions have diminishing returns . This can come in many forms. A classic example is “premature optimization” – usually found in larger companies. They tend to build a sales and marketing engine , complex metrics etc before figuring out if there is market fit to begin with . It could also be that another problem with bigger impact could show up and take priority over what you are working on . The ability to stay objective is crucial here to avoid significant opportunity cost

I would really appreciate your views on this

What’s in a name ?

Romeo and Juliet is a brilliant piece of literature and every time I think of it, I remember Juliet arguing “What’s in a name . That which we call a rose. By any other name will smell as sweet” . What Juliet did not say was that when it comes to those of us with very long names – the answer is EVERYTHING !

Last name was not a big deal at all when I was growing up in Trivandrum . Till I got out of college – I did not even have a real last name . It was just an initial V that I used – and that was common practice . My name was signed Vijayasankar . V . That V stood for Vijayaraghavan – which is my dad’s first name . There were no other Vijayasankars in any of my classes – and this never was a problem . My friends called me Sankar in school and VS in college . No one called me Vijay – ever !

My parents and grand parents had decided on my name after a lot of careful consideration . It’s a combination of the names of my paternal and maternal grandmothers. And it was – and still is – kind of a unique name . Normally it would have read Vijayashankar like it’s pronounced in Malayalam – but because of this truncation and concatenation of grad mothers’ names, and in the interest of not ending up with 13 alphabets in my name , it ended up being Vijayasankar . I have my paternal grandfather to thank for that part 🙂

Then I had to apply for my passport while I was in business school . That was the turning point. The dude at the counter insisted that initials are no good on a passport and that I should expand it to Vijayaraghavan. I was in a hurry and I agreed . What he did in the actual passport was that he made that my first name and my own name became my last name . For good measure he also had me convinced that this is how it was done for EVERYONE:)

The dude was not a total liar , as it turns out . I now know several Indian men whose names were butchered by the passport office . Several from Kerala have their dad’s first name as their first name in their passport 🙂

When I started in TCS – most of my fellow trainees were from the North (North of Kerala at least if not North of India ). They were the ones who started calling me Vijay instead of Sankar. It stuck and in a few months I started introducing myself as Vijay too 🙂

Finally came the time when I had to travel to USA. I remember the frustration of the CBP officer at JFK who let me in – she couldn’t make out which was my first name and which was my last name . Passports were not machine readable at that point . I nearly thought she won’t let me into the country 🙂

The next shock came in Starbucks in Denver, CO . My manager there told the barrista that my name was John – which always resulted in a big frown on her face ! I eventually started using VJ as my “Starbucks name”. I hadn’t known most of my life that everyone needs a Starbucks name 🙂

Along came an opportunity to live and work in Liverpool, UK . There – no one had any difficulty pronouncing my name . And there was excellent Indian food available all around. Yet I was in for my next “name experience”. We were building an extension to SAP for insurance and they needed a field to hold email address . My tech lead chose mine as the test case proclaiming “in the history of mankind , there hasn’t been a longer email id and there never will be” ! He was right of course and I have personally used it as the litmus test for a dozen projects after that 🙂

After the UK , I started in Los Angeles, CA on my next job . With that came the Spanish variable of my name problem . We had a lot of Hispanics in the team and they would call me VIHAYA ! Some would call me VIHAYA VIHAYA shortening my first and last names . Took me ages to find out that’s how they pronounce J

Finally there is the TSA . I swear I speak to them the most outside my own family given the amount of flying I do. Every week , they stare at the long string of letters on my ID at the airport for a couple of minutes . I am convinced they don’t read – they just count letters and verify it they way . Some tell me in an exasperated voice “it’s a very long name , sir”.

I respond “I blame the passport officer in Trivandrum”, and walk away enjoying their confused look 🙂

PS : hardly a week goes by without someone asking me about my looooong name . I wrote the whole story down so that the next person asking will just get a short link to it 🙂

IBM buys Redhat – a view from the peanut gallery !

Ok – few disclaimers first . I am an IBM executive and I hold some IBM stock. I had no involvement in this acquistion – I only found out when I saw it on social media yesterday afternoon. And I am not a company spokesperson – this is my personal blog and what I say below is just my own opinions.

Why do I think IBM made this decision ?

IBM strategy under Ginni has four focus areas – Cognitive/Data , Cloud , Industry, Security. Obviously they all overlap and are under different stages of maturity etc.

On the cloud front – IBM believes that hybrid cloud/ Multi cloud is the highest value segment . Most clients use several different cloud providers – and managing data and security and all other things an enterprise needs across all these clouds is a sweet spot for IBM , and Redhat plays very nicely into that theme . Vast majority – perhaps as high as 80 or 90 percent – of cloud related work for these clients is yet to happen and IBM sees that as a high value opportunity to partner with them. Not only does RHEL give a big advantage in IBM being common platform across clouds – it also comes with an 8 million strong developer community and a massive partner ecosystem.

Of course there is a lot of portfolio and channel rationalization effort that needs to happen in such a big acquisition.

IBM has made plenty of internal investments in smaller Acquistions and new businesses like Watson . At this point what IBM needs is a big bold step (some of my friends call it a Hail Mary) that can move the needle. I think buying Redhat will move the needle – not just as accretive revenue and margin , but also to strengthen IBM’s portfolio and let it capture significant hybrid cloud market .

What about clients ?

If this doesn’t sound like a good idea to IBM’s and Redhat’s clients – it’s game over . I don’t limit clients to paying customers – I involve all stakeholders in this including the folks using the free parts of Redhat backed projects like Fedora which I am personally a big fan of.

The onus is on IBM, Redhat and it’s partners to explain the next steps clearly to the clients. I only spoke with two clients since the news came out – and they were not at all spooked since they read that Redhat will stay as an independent BU. They also knew of IBM’s credentials on open source , including LINUX .

I think given the size of the ecosystem – effective communication is the primary risk of this deal . I don’t worry as much on engineering.

Largest software Acquistion – does IBM have that kind of money ?

A lot of friends asked me since the news came out whether IBM has this kind of cash. The question is genuine given the poor performance of the stock and the revenue misses for a few years. The truth is – IBM has always been good on free cash flow and balance sheet .

A lot of people only notice IBM’s P&L and stock price and forget the other financial health indicators .

Isn’t $34B way too pricey ?

Obviously one of the first questions to cross my mind too – and clearly shared by several observers. We asked the same questions when LinkedIn and GitHub got bought by Microsoft.

Redhat only makes about $3B in revenue with an operating income of $472M . It should be noted that both revenue and income have been growing year over year too, which is a good addition to existing IBM business . So yes it’s a big multiple indeed given it will take a long time on linear basis to recover that money. I am not making a comment on market cap given the news will typically send Redhat stocks up the stratosphere and make commentary meaningless .

I use three questions to think through whether this makes sense on strictly price perspective . Of course my answers are purely my own guesses – I don’t know what the big boys and gals considered , and could be biased.

1. Were there other companies that could have been bought for similar impact, but at cheaper price ?

IBM has historically stayed away from apps business – and that eliminates several companies I would have readily considered as great buys. So it seems to me that there wasn’t any other reasonably “big impact” Acquistions that could have worked better.

2. Could the money have been put to use to better effect other than buying ?

I am not opposed to share but backs at all – but that alone doesn’t count as a viable long term strategy. Investing in more data centers etc for cloud business is the area where it of course makes sense as an alternative . But would it have given the same revenue and profit uplift immediately ? Perhaps not .

3. Would existing business have been hurt if someone else bought this company ?

Amazon and Google are well aware of hybrid cloud as the reality and don’t hide that in their commentary anymore. But the two companies who potentially could have realistically benefited from buying Redhat would have been Microsoft and SAP . Probably too pricey for SAP to pull it off – which leaves Microsoft . They have been the strongest player in the high value part of the cloud market that IBM plays in. So from a defensive point of view as well – this passes the sniff test

Won’t IBM totally screw up Redhat’s open source goodness ?

Redhat is iconic in the open source world – and the only company of its kind to make the kind of big money it does, while staying true to their roots. When you hear IBM – the first thing that comes to mind is the history of big patent leadership over decades , and commercial licenses . So naturally the first question that comes up is whether IBM will destroy all that goodness.

The only logical first step here is to assure that Redhat will stay as an independent BU within IBM – and that’s exactly what IBM has announced formally. And Redhat CEO will report directly to Ginni even though the size of the business is less than what typically is held by people at that level. That is a VERY strong statement of how importantly Redhat will be treated within IBM . And I think Jim will be an excellent addition to our leadership team – which in itself is quite valuable.

For those who have been around longer – IBM did the Lotus Acquistion years ago which was the biggest in those days. Lotus was left alone a long time too as an independent team. Rational , Cognos etc are also software Acquistions that kept their identity for a long time – and many of those folks are still here .

While IBM is known as this patent giant and commercial first company – the truth is that IBM has been a huge proponent of open source too, and a big part of LINUX community from the beginning.

For near future – I don’t see Redhat DNA being diluted with any blue washing. For now IBM distribution , relationships, research and consulting are all good for Redhat to play even more strongly in the market . Long term – I fully expect integration between the two companies and hope it happens smoothly with minimum bumps in the road.

Product and Partner overlaps

The product leaders on both sides will have their work cut out for them . It’s not just the OS that comes with Redhat – there is jBPM , JBOSS etc that all have similar products on IBM side too . I have no knowledge of what the plans are , and am very curious to see how this evolves.

Channel organization will also have a full plate of actions to make sure that the vast and heterogeneous ecosystem gets clear plans and communication on next steps . The fact that Redhat will stay largely the same for near future should help a lot.

What about Redhat employees ?

Any time a small company gets bought by a significantly larger company, the employees of the smaller company will feel some angst . I expect that to be the case for Redhat colleagues too . The prevailing wisdom is usually that in the name of synergy – jobs will be cut and budgets will get slashed .

I don’t think – and I have no inside knowledge – there should be any such fear for near future given the announcement. IBM perhaps look scary from the outside but is a great place to work once you are here. And there are many of us – including moi – who are very keen to welcome you , help you settle in, work with you and learn from you !

There is always something new to learn

First things first – jet lag sucks more as I grow older . Not that long ago , I was able to function just fine with a different time zone every day as I flew around the world .

This time in India – it was quite hard to shake it off , and it was twice as bad this week in NY fighting the reverse lag. I can’t wait to get a good night’s sleep on my own bed after three weeks on the road.

I was in the IBM learning center in Armonk, NY this week for a leadership training class called RISE .

IBM training events are usually quite good – and I have taken and taught at many of them over the years.

But this one was quite special – and I learned a few things that I perhaps haven’t paid enough attention so far .

1. Simulations are such a great learning tool !

We worked in teams of six making decisions about a certain problem . The case study was about 80 pages long that we had to glean info from in an hour . And then every day we got new information and had to tweak our decisions and make new ones. Case studies of course are not new to me and I did my fair share in business school and also in many later training sessions. I have also worked with simulation based systems in past a couple of times . But a three day session – competing against three other teams – and seeing the results of our decisions quickly ( sometimes painfully ) was an exceptional learning experience.

For those keeping score – our team “aurora” won 🙂

2. The power of the Balance sheet !

I had taken the role of CFO for my team . Good thing that the course had a Pre-req to brush up on Finance fundamentals – and I had plenty of time to do it because of the jet lag keeping me awake at night 🙂

In my day job – I worry about P&L every day and cash flow fairly frequently too . It’s very rare that I even have to think about balance sheet . But as we worked through the course of the three days – I quickly realized what a powerful tool Balance sheet can be .

Let’s just say a lot of lessons from my Finance management professors flashed across my mind in rapid fashion 🙂

I think one of the reasons we won the “game” was that we used Balance sheet more productively than other teams. And we strategically kept quiet about that till the end of course 🙂

3. The incredible value of diverse opinions

We had four ladies in the team and two gents . Two from US , one from Hongkong , one from Australia , one from India and one from Belgium . In short – a fairly diverse team .

One decision we had to take quickly in the simulation was to pick a sales channel for a scenario amongst three choices . Five of us chose one channel and my Belgian friend Sonia chose another – and she gave a darn good logical reason . We went with the majority decision and painfully realized as we saw the results that we were dead wrong and she was right !

Good lesson learned to listen more closely and watch for group think kicking in !

I still can’t believe we passed on her perfectly good and rational argument – and I was one of the first to dismiss it . On the bright side – we quickly realized our folly and started listening to each other more intensely since that moment !

4. Hearing the views of multiple senior leaders on the same issues is enlightening

We were incredibly fortunate to have a half dozen senior leaders engage with our class – including my own boss Marianne and my ex-boss Mark ! It’s not often that we get several of them to give their opinions on any given topic . It was an eye opening – and thoroughly enjoyable – experience as they patiently explained their unique views on the questions we raised .

5. “Collabagility” is a thing 🙂

We had some fun with the word – a combination of collaboration and agility . We even created some rap music on it yesterday 🙂

We all thrive on problem solving – and usually that is all from scratch . Over the last four days over meals and drinks together with my new friends from around the globe – one thing became quite clear . Many things that I have encountered as unique problems have already been faced and solved by others across the world. And no one has any issue discussing how they solved those problems either .

I thought I was a well networked guy – but I clearly haven’t done nearly enough in making use of it productively . Now that we all know each other better – I look forward to more “collabagility” 🙂

6. Good decision making needs food , sleep and exercise

Ok – so this I knew very well before I landed in Armonk 🙂 . But for good measure – the faculty reminded me of this any way during the coursework as well .

Just that I first hand experienced what happens when Jetlag plays spoil sport . Day 1 – slept 3 hours . Day 2 – slept 10 hours . Day 3 – slept 4 hours . Day 4 – slept 9 hours . The only good thing that happened with insomnia is that I took some long walks early in the morning – and in biting cold – along the West Chester woods .

There used to be a time when I could run SAP go-lives for 36 hour shifts across several sites. Clearly I won’t be a good release manger any more 🙂