Thursday, December 5, 2013

Why My Next Car Will also be a Mahindra

This one is not about a car, but attitudes. It's slightly long, but I'm sure you won't stop till you reach the end. Definitely something to write home about. Especially when you know that Mahindra forwarded this to his directs saying it's a 'good read':-) What's even better news is that my issues were subsequently solved and my car was returned on the same day. What would have made me a really delighted customer was if they could do this without me having to send the email below.

Here's the response, and below that is my email to him.

Dear Nibu,

Thank you for your passionate email and the detailed feedback. I thank you for the kind words of appreciation for Chrome Motors and am sorry for your experience with the service standards at Anant Motors.

Your observations are very pertinent and certainly offer food for thought. I have taken the liberty of forwarding your mail to the leadership of the sales and customer care functions within the auto division for their perusal and action. It is feedback like this from our well-wishers like you that encourages the team to strive for higher standards of sales and service.

Thank you again for endorsing Mahindra products and I look forward to your continued patronage.

Warm regards,

 Anand G Mahindra


From: Thomas <xxxxx>
Date: 16 November 2013 1:35:01 pm IST
To: MAHINDRA ANAND <xxxxxxxxx>

Subject: Fwd: XUV Issues

Dear Mr Mahindra,

I've been a big fan of Mahindra vehicles, and will always be one. I recently (August) bought an XUV 500 W8 after owning my first Mahindra, the refreshed Scropio MHawk, for 4 years. While I love the XUV (every whisker, paw and claw), (the car is designed after the cheetah, so there are paws as door handles, whiskers above the front bumper and the tail lights up to show the claws) I'm facing several issues for which I've had to visit Anant motors BG Road,  Bangalore, more than once. Please bear with me, this is going to be a long email. I'm disappointed with the attitudes and general lackluster service at Anant Cars. When I had the Scorpio, I serviced it with Chrome motors Mysore Road and was a really happy customer. Almost delighted. (This is in spite of clutch failures, more than once.) I spent 4 years building a relationship with them and they treated me like how you would want them to treat people who have put their trust in your brand. They were prompt in their work and more importantly, knew how the car worked. I'm disappointed that I can't continue getting my new car serviced by them. Chrome (Mysore Road) is the best service center to many Scorpio owners in Bangalore. Why should XUV owners get anything less? When people ask me did I upgrade or downgrade...from a Scorpio, please tell me what do I tell them?

 It is not the infrastructure that is important to me as an XUV owner. I want decent service, and someone who can fix the issue on the first attempt. Of course to fix an issue, you need to understand your product first. Unfortunately, there are very few people in Anant who can convince me of this fact. It's not just about customer service, ultimately, you could be very courteous and all milk and honey, but if you couldn't fix my issues, all of that comes to a naught. I had multiple issues (as you can see below) with the XUV even before the vehicle was a week old and one particular issue (vehicle pulling to the left) is still haunting me. I've already visited Anant cars twice and they have not been able to fix the issue. I stay 20 kms away from the workshop and am not comfortable with the pick up and drop arrangement that is provided.

Anant cars has failed to demonstrate their ability to take care of my car like they would their own and you'll see why below. I take the vehicle personally and am present at the workshop the whole day. I've spent 2 whole days like this in the last 5000 kms. I usually had to take a day off work to take the vehicle to the service center.

 I lost a mirror plate (RHS) when the car brushed against a hay laden tractor and none of the service centers in Bangalore knew that only the mirror plate was available as a spare. They were all insisting that I replace the entire assembly that costs Rs 8000 odd. I got in touch with Mr Kannan and after his intervention, got the part. The part was not installed correctly and it just fell off on the highway while traveling to Mangalore. I called Karnataka Motors and they give me the same response that I have to change the entire assembly! I come back expecting that maybe everyone in Bangalore has been looped about the communication and check with India Garage.. same response! I'd expect some awareness about this part to be shared with your entire network. It's creating a really bad impression when someone who's changed the entire assembly gets to know that it was only the mirror plate that need to be changed. I'm not sure who is responsible to pass on this communication, but apparently, this is still not done. The RHS mirror plate is still not installed properly and I had to use double sided tape to ensure the plate didn't fall off again.

 I find the Service Advisers and relationship managers haven't even read the customer copy of the manual. Expecting them to have read the service manual may be too much. It might make sense to come up with a certification program (similar to the software industry CCNA, MSCE) to ensure that every RM/SA knows at least the minimum amount of information about the car. Mahindra Certified Service Adviser. Here's an example of why. I noticed that the cruise control disengaged by itself when the + button was engaged and would not engage again till you restarted the vehicle. I was able to recreate the issue and they promptly changed the switch! If they had read the manual, they would have just had to show me the page where it is described and remind me that this was a design issue, and not really a fault.

 The first time I took the car to the service center (even before it was due for service) I had to wait an entire day for them to address the issue. The actual time spent on the car was less than 3-4 hours (max) The car wasn't touched till 1 PM. I had called in advance, taken an appointment to come at 9 and was on time. So if the car would not be touched till 1, why call me at 9? There are many inefficiencies at the workshop and no one seems to care. I reminded the RM a couple of times at least that no one was attending the car and there was basically no response. When Toyota can do a full service in 3 hours, is expecting the same from Mahindra expecting too much? I'm certain it is not.

 Most of the workshops don't allow customers beyond a certain point. I was observing the workshop folks work on my car and they had just removed two tires and swapped them. However, only one wheel was fixed, and the other one was not even placed properly on the vehicle. And forgetting about the vehicle missing one wheel, they try and lower the jack. I had to scream a warning before they raised it up and fixed the other wheel. I have many such instances to cite and after you hear them, you won't think I'm paranoid. If this is the way they handle your vehicle while you are there at the workshop, imagine what happens when you are not there. What the customer doesn't know won't hurt him? But it will! Please allow more transparency.

I had issues with closing the doors. Each time they touch something, something else seems to break.

The maps provide wrong directions. Just ensuring they are on the latest version is not fixing the problem!

Dear Sir, when it comes to product reliability, service or preventive maintenance, your competitors are not a Toyota or Honda. That's probably aiming too low. Your competitor is actually Boeing or Airbus.

Thank you for listening. That's why my next vehicle will also be a Mahindra.

Warm Regards,

Nibu Thomas

Monday, November 18, 2013

Management Lessons at the Second TC World Executive Workshop

The second executive workshop for tech comm managers was held at the Hyatt Hotel, Bangalore, the same location as the last year. The registration process included getting your picture taken for a Photo ID card. That's certainly a first. It's another matter that the picture wasn't very clear and some of it was because of a bright light in the background that made everyone appear like they just had an idea :) And it took some time for each registrant to complete the process.

One thing to appreciate about TC World conferences is their sense of time. They start on time, irrespective of who's come or not. After the regular welcome address, we jumped right into a talk show.

Breaking Glass Ceilings

The host was Peter Yorke (who recently celebrated 25 years in the profession) and the 'victim' was Kishore Mandyam, CEO of a Cloud and Mobile CRM start up called Impel CRM. It's another thing that by the end of the show, it almost seemed like they had switched roles. The outspoken Kishore has several years of experience in IT and was earlier associated with Infosys. He's associated with several startups. The talk show was called "How I broke the glass ceiling" and Peter started firing questions at our guest. When asked about entrepreneurship, Kishore said that though he wasn't clear about what he wanted to do, he was very clear about what he didn't want to do. He was clear that he didn't want to continue coding. He told us that soon, it would not be competitive to get work done out of India. Given the constant 10% increases in salary, year over year, while salaries increases were marginal in other geographies, he felt it was only a matter of time before reality hits home. To a question if large companies would be replaced by entrepreneurs who operated out of small one bedroom apartments, he didn't see that happening soon. He talked about the opportunities available to both kind of sectors. He talked about how technology was only an enabler and a contributor to a business. He also talked about the importance of selling and how life was all about selling. He explained how the decision was easier for him and his wife who both worked in the same domain and making choices was easy. Talking about mistakes he would like to correct or do differently, he responded saying that if he were to do it again, he would have first gone and raised a 'sh**load' of cash. Funding essentially happens very early in the process or very late when the investor is sure that the idea has taken off. He also realized that one shouldn't depend only on selling online. Those who sign up online, also sign off online.
Kishore sees that the engagement model with audiences will change. It is very important to know what content fits in what kind of delivery model.
On being asked if we had a problem with English writers in India, he narrated an example he saw in the newspaper just that morning. He saw a big opportunity for good quality writers. Of course there were disagreements from participants. There was one doc manager who has worked in the US and in India and felt that finding good writers was difficult there as well. So to the problem was not about good writers, they exist. But finding good writers is the challenge.

Creating Adaptive Content
Then it was a session on creating adaptive content using Adobe. I'm sure one of the attendees from Adobe could have done a much better session live, instead of it being a webinar. If it had to be done remotely, maybe they could have used Adobe Presenter? Any webinar with only a voice and slides (however innovative they might be) is still passing on only 30 percent of the message. The other 70 percent is non-verbal communication. Predictably, half the audience were in their own world and the other half found it difficult to concentrate. Murphy ensured that technology issues added to the confusion. The gist of the presentation was how more and more people were using different devices to access the Internet, and the strategies that could be used to create content that 'adapts' to different kinds of output devices.

3 Quarters Manager
I've never quite understood the Sardar stereotype. Every Sardar I've encountered so far (and I've had Sardar friends from the 4th standard) are all very articulate, highly intelligent, hardworking achievers. Brij Sethi is no exception. From being CTO at HP, a VP at Wipro, he's now managing talent development at the Azim Premji Foundation. Brij is also into cartoons and his presentation was studded with a few. He started off by clarifying that the title "3 quarters manager", had nothing to do with any sort of alcohol. :) He talked about how, often, you may not have thought a particular idea fully, but when you start to speak, it starts to build and you finally would have pulled it of. We had to all think of getting new skills and honing those that we already have. Skills are like muscles... if you don't exercise them, they'll soon be useless. Some skills make you strong, while others reduce your weakness. Learn from others who have tread the path, both from those who have succeeded and those who have not. He described how everyone was wired for praise and how habit was a friend. He compared habits to a thermostat. They neither increase nor decrease the temperature. They merely tell you what the status is. His request to all participants was to translate some of the learning into action. Brij talked about the need to constantly reinvent oneself. You can't do the same things and expect different results. He talked about various constants like customers, technology, teams, working styles, bosses, location, use of time, weak ties and strong ties. He asked the audience to pick up one of these aspect that if worked on, would result in the most impact. What would be the easiest to do? What would be the most important to do? He urged the audience to watch Daniel Pink's TED talk about motivation.
So what's missing in the title? It is simply this. All managers should be three quarters managers and the remaining quarter, should be doers.

Which brings us to our first management lesson.
A crow was sitting in a tree, doing nothing all day. A small rabbit saw the crow, and asked him, "Can I also sit like you and do nothing all day long?" The crow answered: "Sure, why not." So, the rabbit sat on the ground below the crow, and rested. All of a sudden, a fox appeared, jumped on the rabbit and ate it.
Management Lesson: To be sitting and doing nothing, you must be sitting very, very high up.
If you are not part of the solution...

You are probably part of the problem. Time for collaborative problem solving. The participants were divided into groups and then Akash listed down issues or challenges that were suggested individually. The top five challenges that were listed were change management, developing a sense of ownership, motivating teams, managing resource crunches, conflict resolution. There were 10 tables and each topic was given to two tables to discuss and come up with solutions and finally present them to the entire group.

Each group looked at the causes for the issue and suggested various solutions that could be tried. When it came to driving change, some of the solutions that were suggested to drive change were to promote open communication, to plan for change, proper training, encourage transparency, identifying experts and change agents, facilitating automation wherever possible, running pilot programs and sharing success at all levels.

The solutions to deal with resource crunches talked about having a mitigation plan in place, good retention policies, ensuring work life balance, using contractual help during peak times, automation, revisiting capability mapping, come up with productivity metrics and go back to management with engineer to writer ratios.

When it came to conflict resolution,each group first identified the possible areas of conflict. The conflict areas include within team, manager vs team, between teams, etc. Some of the things to try to solve conflicts are objective discussions, identifying the root cause for conflict and addressing it, using moderators, importance of an open mind, addressing communication gaps and using informal settings.

The groups that worked on developing a sense of ownership issues did an excellent job. The chart that displayed solutions was complete with infographics! They classified the issue into three areas, willingness, ability or opportunity. The solutions proposed were using a carrot and stick approach, starting with baby steps, hiring the right talent, delegating responsibilities, training when necessary and building trust.

When it came to motivating teams, the groups felt it was important to first identify what the individual factors were for motivation. Identify what were the demotivating factors. Solutions varied from being a good listener, to rewards and recognition, creating opportunities, job rotation, team outings and group activities, some amount of training, flexible work options and maybe even consensual decision making.

And the turkey has our second management lesson.
A turkey was chatting with a bull. "I would love to be able to get to the top of that tree," sighed the turkey, "but I haven't got the energy". "Well, why don't you nibble on some of my droppings?" replied the bull "They're packed with nutrients." The turkey pecked at a lump of dung and found that it actually gave him enough strength to reach the first branch of the tree. The next day, after eating some more dung, he reached the second branch. Finally after a fortnight, there he was proudly perched at the top of the tree. He was promptly spotted by a farmer, who shot the turkey out of the tree.
Management Lesson: Bullsh** might get you to the top, but it won't keep you there.
Understanding Financial Statements
And thus, it was time to learn how to understand financial statements. Kumar started his career as a cost accountant before moving into documentation. It's something he closely follows and it is perhaps his first love. Kumar made a few disclaimers before starting basically to state that technical communication interested him more and that a room full of hiring managers shouldn't get the wrong impression and not want to hire him. My take is that it's a good thing if a hiring manager doesn't hire him for this reason. If anyone doesn't hire Kumar, that person is most likely more than a little unstable in the head. Look at the brighter side. Why ruin your life working for a crazy boss!

Kumar took us through a typical business cycle from borrowing money to buying goods, making the product and then selling it. He showed us the difference between income statements and balance sheets saying the former summarizes activity (period of time) while the later looks at status (at any point in time). He showed us how Google was actually more of an advertising company because its revenues came from advertising. Kumar differentiated between direct and indirect costs and showed us the impact of each kind of cost in a service company as compared to a product company. We also looked at some financial ratios and what they meant. He also touched upon the concept of goodwill. His concluding slide defined accounting as a choice between being approximately correct or being precisely wrong. That could be one of the reason's why accounting is considered to be an art rather than a science. And, of course, there was an accountant joke to emphasize this.

Direction from Directors
Peter Yorke was back to facilitate this session as well. The panel consisted of Sandhya (Cisco), Gururaj (Oracle), Pavan (Adobe) and Michael (TC World).

To a question on how to get several teams aligned in the same direction, the response was by
  • listening
  • identifying challenges and establish baselines
  • making your own assessment
  • continuously communicating and checking to ensure message has been understood
  • knowing the strengths of your folks
  • taking inputs from the team, but making your own judgment.
How do you manage long distance teams?
  • It is important to know where the technology is going
  • Management happens at various levels, at the team level, 1-1s
  • Long distance teams includes managing HQ counterparts
  • Regular calls/meetings based on needs
  • Importance of building a sense of ownership in each individual and as a team
There was a discussion on managing perceptions and changing mindsets. Michael also talked about the importance of project management skills when it comes to documentation and the inability to find qualified folks in Germany.

There was discussion about career planning and how certain organizations created a career path for individual contributors. Senior individual contributors had titles like content strategist, principal TW, and information architect. The performance criteria and expectations were also changed accordingly.

To the importance of domain knowledge, the panel responded with
  • Domain knowledge helps when dealing with other stakeholders (engineering, marketing)
  • Helps you understand the big picture
  • You speak 'their' language and can add value to discussion. Can even question what they do
  • Provide useful feedback (PRD reviews)
Responses to "Who is an ideal manager?" included
  • Someone who can maintain a 'work-dream-balance'
  • Leads by example - from the front when the need arises
  • Motivates and stands in for the team
  • Must have project management skills
Reality Check
And the final session was more of a reality 'show'/check. Adapting to the New Realities and Economy (Indian technical communication industry 3.0) was an open house facilitated by Guru. Some questions that made the audience think were
  • Are there enough opportunities in the market for professionals who have more than 10 years in the system?
  • Is there really a cost advantage for these folks and the rest of the industry?
  • What are the other options organizations have when it comes to global locations?
  • What is the general perception about writers in India?
  • Can Indian companies continue to rely on the off-shoring business?
  • How do we create world class Tech Writing professionals?
and more questions for managers
  • How to increase value as a manager?
  • Do managers need to get hands on writing, editing?
  • How do you address issues like job hopping, training and quality?
  • Can we productize documentation?
  • Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
You'd be lying if you said yes to the first question (are there enough opportunities for 10 plus years of experience). The answer is clearly no. Guru talked about an interview with someone he met at the TC world conference in Germany. If that person had the option to hire a writer from India or a writer from the US, who would he choose and why? He'd would 'hands down' choose the US writer. And the reason is that Indian writers would anyway hop jobs after 2 years, while he was certain that US writers would stick on for a longer duration.
One of the participants talked about building one's network. It was always the network that helped during difficult times. Then there is value. Do you really have 10 years of experience, or is it 2 years of experience repeated 5 times? What is the value you would bring to the table as someone with so much experience. Continue to learn, get certified, update that resume. Regularly. You are not going to remember your achievements when you really want to. If you have them. 
Guru also talked about cultural issues. One person he interviewed found Indian writers to be very shy and that they don't ask questions. So it was evident that such writers will not really push SMEs for information. When push came to shove, if you are doing only writing, you will be easily replaced. Mexico, Bulgaria and Romania are fast becoming viable alternatives to getting writing work done out of India.

And whether you are looking for a job or not... here is our final management lesson.
A little bird was flying south for the winter. It was so cold that the bird froze and fell to the ground in a large field. While it was lying there, a cow came by and dropped a load of hot, steaming dung on it. As the frozen bird lay there in the pile of sh**, it began to realize how warm it was. The dung was actually thawing him out! He lay there all warm and happy and soon began to sing for joy. A passing cat heard the bird singing and came to investigate. Following the sound, the cat discovered the bird under the pile of cow dung. The cat promptly dug the bird out, killed him and ate him.
Management Lessons:
  • Not everyone who drops sh** on you is your enemy.
  • Not everyone who pulls you out of sh** is your friend.
  • And when you're warm and happy in your pile of sh**, keep your mouth shut! 

P.S: There are actually 4 lessons. Lesson 3 is kinda extreme to put on this post without offending some folks. But if you are still curious (you have been warned) and have studied biology in school, Google is your friend. Search for "4 management lessons + Bull".
... and don't shoot the messenger.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Guilty! My wedding Invitation

This is something I created in 2005. I wish I had started to blog a long ago. Better late than cliched. Enjoy!

A Special Wish from the Bride & the Groom

Dear People!
Not everybody can emulate Vajpayee. However tempting the
 thought of remaining eligiblefor life may seem .... 
I've  just given up my claim to  the pope hood! I've found my rib.  
Now there will be another person to worry about me..... and another 
person to worry!
I will soon be tying the 'knot' (Strangely, the only knot that comes

 to my mind is the one on the hangman's noose!) 
The sentence(God willing) will be carried out on the 8th of July in God's own  country . Four days after the American Independence
......I lose mine! 
Please treat this as a personal invitation.
The 'victim' has completed her MBA from the Mangalore University
 (she obviously had more sense than me by not joining ICFAI!) and is 
currently working in the HR of Emphasis......Mangalore. 
So I won't be attending any more classes from ICFAI. I'll soon have personalized coaching at home! And because of that, in all 
probability, I will complete the program along with my second child!
But lets keep that under wraps right now!

The card looks too sober to be mine. But my parents threatened to disown me if even mentioned 'minor' changes!
BesidesI don't think I would savor sleeping on the couch ....alone Sigh!

P.S. A few of my friends wanted to have a look at her snap to see  what she looks like ...'before I drive her nuts!"
I obliged them with a snap from the engagement...scroll down to see the picture!
Disclaimer : I'm not responsible for any hair loss.

"A man is incomplete before marriage. After that.....he's finished!" - Zsa Zsa Gabor

  1 Attached Images

Sun, Surf, Sand and Shorts at the 15th STC Annual Conference, Goa!

That’s six in a row for me. The last time I was in Goa was not for the 8th STC conference, but for a family friend’s wedding when I was 11 years old. A lot has changed since then. 

I expected a big turnout, as usual, but it wasn’t as big as was seen in Bangalore and Pune conferences. People didn’t like the location or were maybe too broke?

There were many firsts at this conference
  • This is the first conference that I’ve attended that had ‘Surangani’ and ‘Bombay se aya mera dost’ as ‘welcome’ songs, complete with instruments! Had they gone on for any longer, some participants  would have hoped to start with cocktails to keep up with the mood!
  • It’s the first time we didn’t have the president deliver a speech (which I thought made sense). Usually they would have already had a chance to have their say in the conference handout. And it doesn't make sense repeating the same stuff. Moreover, many of us are ‘just’ writers not speakers ;)
  • It’s the first time where we didn’t get a conference ‘bag’. It’s time STC started collecting the bags back ;)
  • I’ve never attended the cocktail party… so correct me if I’m wrong… it’s the first time they got dancers from Russia? Maybe the drinks weren’t that good so they had to make sure the Russians didn’t understand the comments!
  • First time in October? Probably to take into account the non peak season in Goa). Smart move again.
  • And personally, it’s the first time we were staying at the conference venue. Except for the Bangalore conferences, I’ve always attended these out-of-town events with my family. Business and pleasure if you will. And no, I didn’t have any trouble convincing anybody for sponsorship. I’ve never had to. As Mak always says, consider it an investment. Of course Mak can say that, he’s a businessman. He can show such investments as expenses on his returns. Salaried slaves like us can’t!

The keynote speaker was one of the better ones I’ve listened to. And I’ve listened to a whole gamut of folks that included software professionals turned politicians! Sometimes, the keynote speaker is from one of the sponsors and not everyone likes to start with a sales pitch. Everyone in the audience I mean. I’ve seen people walk in after the introduction and the keynote is over. But anyone who did it this time, missed a few good pointers. Sharad Sharma is more renowned as the ex-CEO of Yahoo India. He’s currently the CEO of BrandSigma, a concern he founded. He was introduced to the crowd by Peter Yorke, who incidentally reported to Sharad, in a previous 'life'. ‘Great boss to have’ and 'provocator' were some of the phrases he used while introducing Sharad.

Sharad chose to look into the future and asked the audience if they would still be writing content in the future. A quick show of hands revealed that everyone was convinced that they would. It wasn’t going as per the plan! He had other forecasts to make. He looked at a future where there would be a lot more user generated content. He gave several examples of how only a few people were required to run massive initiatives (Aadhar). He talked about LEGO innovation and how organizations were preferring smaller teams. Sharad rattled off numbers to show that investments in MNC captive R&D centers in India were slowing down considerably. He categorized companies into the 500, 50K and 500K groups, according to the number of enterprise customers each had. He gave examples of organizations that are moving up and those that are moving down in this category. (To prove his point, he asked the audience how many of them had Nokia phones and there were like 2 embarrassed hands that went up. They probably used these phones for self-defense and it might really work too, unless the assailant also is using one!) At the other end of the spectrum he cited examples of fast growing organizations among which is one called Greytip that charges just Rs 10 per employee/month to do their salary processing.
His view into the crystal ball saw the need for content curators and the need to build engaged communities. Then there’s also content marketing as more and more selling is happening with 'no feet on the ground'. He cited the example of a Bangalore based company that helped with tweaking the position of your website on the search results page. He felt that these new demands could be met perfectly by today’s tech writers. Of course we had to do something - change. We need to become experts on the products we write for, develop our ‘Klout scores’, and continuously innovate and stay ahead (by a few steps, at least).

Guru’s session on documenting cloud operations policies… started off with an interesting exercise. He split the audience into several groups, and asked each group to create checklists for different aspects of setting up and managing a cloud based service. Right from installing, licensing, trials, signup, etc. After all the fist fights and verbal duels had settled down and we had our checklists, he emphatically drove home his point by pointing to the charts we created and saying – “these are the users you are writing for” (when it comes to documenting cloud operations…). From the kind of audience one would write for, he touched upon when users might use documentation, the information types, best practices, standard operating procedures, challenges and various compliance standards for different systems/domains - all this in the context of cloud services.

I expected something magical when it came to the technical consistency presentation. Tamara started by defining what they meant by consistency, and how Juniper’s customer satisfaction levels were taking a beating because of inconsistent documentation. They (Tamara and Prasad) went into details about how they zeroed in on the root cause of poor customer satisfaction when it came to documentation and why some documents were rated highly while others were not. Long story short, they refined their process to include what they called a knowledge requirement document that defined the level of detail for every topic at the smallest level. The knowledge requirements were categorized into ‘must have’ information and ‘good to have’ information. The benefits of the change in process resulted in lesser review and authoring time. A reduction of 66 percent. A little higher and it would have made Ripley happy.

And when it’s time to go, you have an exit strategy. Well, not really. That’s when your plan B is part of plan A. Kumar is again one of those speakers I’d choose to hear from, even if it was Barack Obama or Adolf Hitler in the next room. Or both! He does considerable amount of groundwork before coming up with some really insightful presentations. There’s usually a survey involved, so you can be sure he's not pulling numbers from a hat : ) 

The major problems when it comes to managing doc reviews from SME include comments, no feedback, inadequate or unclear and sometimes contradicting feedback. He picked up each kind of issue and suggested ideas to address them. He then discussed the advantages of online reviews as opposed to face to face reviews. He talked about how to manage reviews, watch review priorities, reiterate expectations (who, when, what, and how) monitor progress and facilitate reviews. Most folks know when to escalate. He ended with three myths...there's no perfect doc, no perfect product and no perfect reviewer. We'll let them off the hook this time!

It’s becoming more and more easy to select the track to attend. Especially when there are only two options. Unless of course, you are forced to choose between ‘heavy weights’. And this time I chose to go listen to 7 habits, one for each day of the week ; ) Habits are formed when we choose to do something over and over again. What you do often, consciously becomes a habit. It started off like a sermon. And like most sermons, the 'congregation' soon has to deal with pangs of guilt towards the end. Dang...I could have got rid of that habit and embraced a few good ones he talked about instead. Edwin has that ability. If you don’t attend his presentations for the knowledge and insights, you must be attending them for the laughs. Now, after 6 in a row, I’ve realized that there are certain speakers you can’t go wrong with. You may make a mistake with selecting the topic, but rarely do you go wrong if you just stick to a good speaker and allow him/her to make the difficult choice (selecting topic) for you. Better still, make sure you have a list of your favorite speakers. Of course when two of your favorite speakers are presenting simultaneously, we have a problem. And that's why they make coins!
Of the seven habits, I thought the read and write were given. The habit of solving problems, the habit of discipline and the habit of excellence made the most sense. Now if I could only get rid of this habit of making new year resolutions!

Infographics is not a new topic. But Faraz and Vimal did a kick ass job with the 75 slide presentation! From explaining what an infographic was, to why it is preferred over the other options, to some very simple examples, some of which were from the 17 century! The one I liked the most was the metro rail map, though inaccurate, (geographically) it did a great job in conveying the necessary information in the most easy to understand manner. They explained where to use infographics. Infographics were preferred because of their simplicity, and the clarity they provide. They are also language independent, more engaging and visually more appealing than other popular ways of conveying information. Flowcharts and timelines, are areas where one can use infographics. They introduced the infographic principles and also the process involved in creating a graphic. They talked about certain tools that can be used to create infographics. Some of the skills that are good to have include user experience design, information development, data analysis, and graphic design.

Paresh Naik’s panel discussion on “what the manager really wants from you” was based on the book “What the CEO really wants from you” and the 4 ‘As’ in the book – Accomplishment, Affability, Advocacy and Authenticity. In brief it was about executing with efficiency, delivering results, being friendly and courteous, being able to persuade without power and being yourself and not pretending to be someone you are not. His panel included the STC India president, doc managers and a director from Adobe, Citrix and Tibco respectively. The audience got to fire questions at the panel. I was busy laughing at some of the questions and answers that I forgot to take notes! Anyway, the winning question was not about what the manager really wants from you, it was about what the employee wanted from his/her manager!

One of the talks in the unconference was about the Adobe Presenter. This is one software that has everything I’ve been wanting for a long time now, for an entirely different purpose. We have an internal training ‘university’ where different departments create courses about various topics (including product, domain, department specifics, competitors) and then share knowledge over a webinar. But the problem here is that those who attend the event remotely, miss out on 70 percent of the content. Why? Because 70 percent (arguably) of all communication is non-verbal. Given the shortening attention spans of global audiences, even with horse blinders, it’s extremely difficult to concentrate. Your mind keeps wandering off after a while… just watching a screen that changes every now and then… and the voice of course is not going to be enough. It never was. Now add the video of the presenter to the equation, and you have what I think is a winner. Of course the downside is that you can’t make these presentation in your PJs and you better be at least ‘reasonably presentable’. You don’t want calls to your support saying… “How do I make the presentation full screen again?!”

Minimalism with Mugdha… oops.. Miffy, truly deserved the best paper award. As Fred said, it was the only paper (among the 25 selected papers) that made it to all the ‘presentation selectors’ lists. It was a well thought out paper. I loved the way Mugdha drew parallels between the Miffy characters and minimalism. I’m sure my daughter would have loved it even more! The slides were not dull (unlike many minimalistic presentations I’ve attended prior to this one). Though concepts were not very different, what made the difference was the delivery and of course the content. Loved the slide on how not to overdo things, that showed Miffy eating the cake! Take a look at the presentation, its self-explanatory. The fonts used was clear and legible. 
One of my biggest gripes when it comes to STC and even Twin conferences is that they don’t seem to have guidelines for presenters. Or maybe they do, but they aren’t implemented vigorously. Some slides have such a small font that I doubt even the presenter can read the text. When you look at it on your PC screen, it might look OK. But project it up on a screen and then try to read it from 50 feet away. Do that or have standards. Insist (and verify) that all the presenters use font sizes above a certain size, on all slides. The Miffy presentation was super, maybe they should use this as THE standard. Lots of cool graphics and the (minimal) text that could easily be read. 
And yes, my favorite speaker list just got bigger!

Like all conferences, there were a few stalls put up by various companies. Adobe again outdid themselves with competitions. And who won the communication suite? A well deserving freelancer!

And then came the 'Power Talks'.
Sunita Agarwal gave us a Tip a minute which included a few good reads.
  • Be a role model – be a mentor
  • Build credibility
  • Understand your company business from end to end
  • Share your knowledge and your Ideas
  • Take responsibilities personally (take pride in your work)
  • Read : Basic Black – Cathie Black
  • Read : Corner Office – Adam Bryant (interviews of C level execs)
  • Use
  • Stop whining
  • Never stop learning

Pawan’s power talk was about the importance of content marketing and the 3-step process of research, optimize and amplify.

Mak talked about how to lead a double life. Serious! He talked about the ‘S’ graph for one’s career and cited several examples of people who’ve had successful parallel careers or varied successful careers one after the other (cascading). Arnold Schwarzenegger excelled at body building, then went on to become an actor where he did well and is now into politics. Mak also talked about his ‘double life’. Part tech writer, part writer. The audience urged him to take up politics as the third option!
So what’s yours?

Then it was Paresh’s turn to explain the annual STC salary survey. Since the conference is early this year, the survey has not yet been completed. He agreed that it made more sense to conduct the survey by role. He had actually done this in 2005. Right now, everyone is assumed to be a technical writer. It would be great if there were at least two categories. Individual contributors and people managers. The survey might make more sense then.

Books to Read (compiled from suggestions from various presenters)
  • The Power of HABIT – Why we do what we do and how to change by Charles Duhigg
  • I will teach yout to be Rich – Ramit Seethi (must read!)
  • Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress Free Productivity – David Allen
  • What the CEO Really Wants – R Gopalakrishnan
  • What’s Mine is Yours: How Collaborative Consumption is Changing the Way We Live – Rachel Botsman
  • Don’t Make Me Think: A common sense Approach to Web Usability – Steve Krug
  • Basic Black: The Essential Guide for Getting Ahead at Work (and in Life) – Cathie Black
  • Corner Office: How top CEOs Made it and You Can Too – Adam Bryant

And there's a movies to watch too - Searching for Bobby Fischer (About Joshua Waitzkin – who won championships in chess and martial arts.)

We must appreciate Fred and team for the entire show and especially for how they managed risk. One of the presenters had cancelled at the last minute and they got Mak to step in as a backup. 
An area for improvement (after ensuring consistency in presentations) is to show the presenter and the audience how much of the 'show' is complete and how much is remaining. Kumar, in one of his earlier presentations about project management had demonstrated one way to do this. He had a small ‘line scale’ on all his slides that clearly showed the progress of the presentation. It’s another matter that he didn’t use it this time and had to hurry up towards the end! This was in spite of timing himself earlier and factoring in time for questions. Maybe, the organizers, by insisting on small rules, can help presenters complete their presentation on time.

Anyway, I'd support Fred for president! (After Pranab goes ;)

You may also like to read - A review of Zuri - White Sands.