Monday, June 28, 2004

Managers, not MBAs - Leadership is 'Contextual'

Chanced to see the article about Henry Mintzberg's latest book - Managers not MBAs. Of course, I'm scouting to get and read a copy ASAP. This sounds very confrontational and I like such books that question fundamental conventions every once a while. It helps to look within ourselves and see where we're headed for and understand if that's right. Well, today Management Education is a premium business what with multinational and domestic brands battling it out for the young customer group!

In my own views about MBA, I've felt that it's very necessary for an aspiring manager or leader to get a reinforcing course in the management fundamentals. But, that certainly adds value only after one has learnt the ropes of what it is to 'manage' or to 'lead'. It is not of much value to attain 'managerhood' or 'leaderhood' with just 2 years of formal education and getting into the workplace with a 'halo'! I join a long list of 'management-for-the-experienced' siders.

Quoted here from Pearson:
"Because conventional MBA programs are designed for people without managerial experience, they overemphasize analysis and denigrate experience. That leaves a distorted impression of management, which has had a corrupting influence on its practice."

I couldn't agree more. Though I've not had the chance to work with fresh graduate-MBAs, as I'm doing one now, I do realise that apart from very few subjects such as Strategic Management, most other subjects are geared towards 'analysis' and 'measurements' that there's a perceptible lack of clarity on workplace situations. In most globally competitive and enterprising companies, managers need to accord top priority to identify growth engines, find out ways to fundamentally improve the business and react to changing economic and global conditions. Analysis of data, though useful, plays a 'support service' role vis-a-vis the overall perspectives, judgement and instincts of the managers.

Again quoted here from Pearson:
"The MBA trains the wrong people in the wrong ways with the wrong consequences." Mintzberg writes. "Using the classroom to help develop people already practicing management is a fine idea, but pretending to create managers out of people who have never managed is a sham."

For all this, Mintzberg is a Professor of Management at the McGill University, Montreal and is credited with insightful works on strategic planning.

So, do you think management education for fresh graduates is useful or sub-optimal?

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Taguchi Methods for System testing

Recently, came across a good technique called the 'Taguchi method for testing' that's apparenty very prevalent in American manufacturing industry for quite some time. The testing technique heavily uses the Orthogonality Theorem that talks of acceptable probabilities for 2 mutually exclusive events in pairs.

In my learning, two of my friends, Unni and Deepa helped me get clarified on some of the nuances of using Taguchi's methods, especially where multiple levels were concerned.

Basically, Taguchi describes a method to test the functionalities of a particular product given a set of non-random variables affecting its performance, in combination. Assuming there are 3 (A,B,C) factors and each factor can take 2 (1,2) values, then by rote, there are 2 (power) 3 possible combinations of these factors, i.e.
{(1,1,1), (1,1,2), (1,2,1), (1,2,2), (2,1,1), (2,1,2), (2,2,1), (2,2,2)}.

Now, Taguchi defines an array through which helps do the set of tests in just 4 experiments, with the following combinations:
{(1,1,1), (1,2,2), (2,1,2), (2,2,1)}.

As the number of parameters increases, this reduction in number of tests to be carried out increases, thus making the testing technique very beneficial. Am planning to try it out in some of the experiments I do in course of my work.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Higher education online

I'm currently doing a post-grad course in business management from the hallowed portals of XLRI, Jamshedpur. This course is held simultaneously across over 30 centres through a satellite-based online delivery mechanism. The delivery mechanism is pioneered by Hughes Escorts Communications Limited under the brand name of DirecWay Global Education.

The mechanism works as follows:
Every center across the country (currently there are around 36 or so), has a few PCs that are connected by a broadband network with the HECL broadband connection. Every student attends the class on the PC. At the studio in the university campus, the prof's class is beamed to a satellite through VSAT terminals. HECL has 5 such studios in the universities from where it offers courses.

The benefits are:
Usually classes are held for around 6 hrs a week. These are 12-24 month programs and so best suited for working executives (it's another thing that only working executives can attend this).
Every course can accommodate around 150+ students. The density of students in these courses is increasing regularly. Currently, over a couple of thousand people have enrolled in the various courses offered by XLRI, IIM K, Narsee Monjee IMS, MAHE etc.
Only pedigree institutes offer such courses and so quality is a given!
Being the working executives that the students are, they can try out the management concepts directly at their workplace and validate them.

I find this course a 'kool' experience and an interesting value-add to my repertoire of knowledge.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Functions and Features

In software parlance, quite a lot of time, we mix up functions and features. I feel they are unique. In my opinion, Functions are those usecases that can be achieved from the software or application. Features are the external views of functions - the way a function may be exposed.

For example, 'Saving a file' is a 'Function'. This can be achieved by multiple features: From Menu bar (Alt+F+S), through Shortcut (Ctrl+S), through Toolbar (click the 'Disk' icon).

Also, I think fundamentally software should look at the functional requirements and the Usability Experts should work around the functional requirements to create the features that are usable. Many a time, I've seen both getting mixed up. Sometimes one sees things like 'ability to send a mail' as a 'feature' and 'checkbox to enable notification mail' as a 'function'.

Function:Feature = 1:Many, Feature:Function = 1:1 (is that true?)