Compared to the time between 2008 to 2012, when I was fast tracking through an IBM career in management – I had a pretty relaxing year at SAP in 2013 on many fronts . Mostly, I have been in a learning mode – and I did learn a lot about how this great company works .
IBM was rather command and control driven to some extent – someone up top decided what needed to be done . I had the freedom to figure out how to do it – assuming I met the goal ethically . Well, meeting the goal didn’t count for much there – you had to exceed the goal by a long margin to be seen as a leader . Every goal we had to hit had to tie back to corporate goals set by CEO – very little vagueness prevailed . Not that all employees liked or agreed with what the goals were – but everyone knew what hills were marked for them to capture .
SAP works very differently – here we like to build consensus for all decisions . People a few levels down from the board members can still define “what” and not just “how” . And I love that balance of top down and bottoms up decision making .
Both companies are rather heavy on process – SAP is smaller in size compared to IBM. But there isn’t much of a relief on process – everything has a process , and it takes whatever time it is supposed to take . I guess that is the price to pay when any company gets to a certain size and scale – from that point , process doesn’t get better or worse . One might learn over time to optimize the constraints or you might just get used to the process and it becomes second nature . I haven’t done either yet – still figuring that one out .
I know IBM occasionally gets flak in the press for not pleasing some customer or other . But having worked there for a long time (actually pretty short time by big blue norms) – I know those are exceptions to the rule . I grew up in IBM with “when in doubt – do right by the customer” drilled into my head . That is thankfully the general policy at SAP too – everyone jumps in to solve Customer issues irrespective of their day job or title . Again – something I absolutely love . In IBM , I had to stay back and deliver what I sold to a customer. In SAP – I don’t have to sell anything , just focus on engineering and related topics . I miss a bit of the adrenalin rush that sales comes with – but I think I am a better techie than a seller . I can live this way for a while .
My motto on team work is simple – success of a team is determined by whether the members of that team watch out for each other even after the people no longer work together . Not everyone works well with my style of leadership. I am fairly hands off – and I hold people responsible for an outcome. There are no marks given for steps – and neither does my team ever get a goal that I am not directly measured on . We succeed or fail together . That is not everyone’s cup of tea – which is why I said people still watching out for each other years after going through a hard project is how I determine true success. At SAP I think I have successfully talked many people out of joining my team full time 🙂
With most people I have worked with in past – I have the faith that I can call them at any time of the day and they will not only pick up the phone , but will also do their best to help me with my request the best they can . And they know they can expect the same of me . Just two weeks ago in India – two of my team mates (Nitish and Anupama) from 2008 came to my hotel late in the evening just to say hi to me and chat . I can’t express how happy that makes me feel . Not everything in corporate life is enjoyable – but this , building a team and seeing them grow , never ceases to be a fulfilling activity .
Compared to my time at IBM , my direct team at SAP is minuscule in size . But I have nothing but utmost satisfaction working with them – if you see us debating you might think we are eleven year olds arguing in a playground 🙂 . We challenge every idea – especially the ones that originate from me . But then we get things done . Our little skunkworks project to offer a free BW on Hana trial on AWS ( http://saphana.com/bwonhanatrial ) is a perfect example . With no formal project – not even a cool code name – we managed to get it done , and in a couple of months this trial has had more than thousand sign ups and more than 50000 hours logged . It was not just our little team – we got full commitment from everyone we requested across the company .
This was a complete déjà vu for me – when the SAP innovation center was formed at IBM, this is exactly how we did it . A small team of volunteers from across the globe who believed in the cause came together and we got it done – without formal budget , headcount and so on . That team is now a big part of IBM – ably led by Gagan Reen, my most trusted wing man those days . I am happy beyond words that this model worked just as well in SAP with Ingo, Rohit and other colleagues . It also reaffirms my belief that good things get done at great speed when small ad hoc teams get formed on the fly .
When it comes to my reputation(?) – majority of people in IBM knew me mostly as a solid technologist in the first part of my career and then as a consulting leader with good abilities in both sales and delivery . In SAP , I am most commonly introduced to other colleagues as a blogger that Vishal hired . It still amuses me to no end – but it has happened at least a hundred times . This leads to people asking me occasionally if I can blog about their product or retweet something they have tweeted . I am honored that some colleagues think I have enough clout in social media to positively amplify their work . However , this is not something I like doing – as an employee , I have very little credibility if I pimp something about SAP . That is best left to the ecosystem – if they see value, they will promote . If they don’t – they will criticize or ignore . While I continue to blog whenever I feel like it – it is rather rare these days that I blog about SAP like I used to before . If 2014 continues in this way – I guess I should interview with Jonathan Becher for a job in social media marketing 🙂
Perhaps the biggest difference between a software job and a consulting job is the org structure . In consulting teams are formed according to project needs – otherwise skilled people form part of a resource pool (I hate the use of the term resource to refer to human beings). In software , there seems to be more of a rigid structure of a team assigned to a manager for a very long time . Neither model is completely inflexible – some part of the team is always made up of people assigned from other parts of the organization . Having been used to working with the flexible resource pool for a long time , it is a bit hard for me to get used to the seemingly more rigid structure at SAP . It is most probably a factor of time – and I am sure I will get there at some point , hopefully soon. Or die trying 🙂
People have asked me many times this year on what is the one thing I miss the least from IBM days – and My answer has not changed . I am happy that I don’t have to deal with lotus notes any more . I never liked it – and I really hope I don’t have to use it again . I don’t ever want to choose between “do you want to delete ? Or do you want to remove” when I try to delete an email .I know there are many IBMers who love notes – more power to them . For me – no thank you !
No idea what 2014 has in store for me – but not going to worry about that . I could use the vacation time to train my dogs , and spend some much needed time with my family away from airports and planes .
Happy holidays everyone !