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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Music Performance: Reflections towards Change Management

I was very excited to attend my niece's solo music performance as part of her Music program graduation requirements. There were postures of the "Soul Quest" posted in many places outside the auditorium announcing her solo performance with QR codes for registering for the event. As I sat in the theater in the front row, I reviewed the program schedule before the program began! Now, I didn't relate to the list of songs selected, the genre of emotions it invoked, and the time period of the composers or the story behind those compositions. But, I very much related to the multitude of things that happened as the program started with my niece performing on flute and singing in Western and Eastern styles. 

A music performance such as this program needs to be viewed from multiple angles. There must have been several discussions between the student and the teachers in selecting the songs to ensure that the songs were challenging bringing the maximum out of the student. There must have been multiple rehearsals from the student personally and specific staged performances before the teachers to confirm readiness. Through out these processes are instances of change management initiatives constantly adapting themselves. Not a single song was instantly selected, iterative practice avoided, and approval granted. This is exactly how initiatives are identified, evaluated, executed, and approved at various stages for both proactive and reactive change. 

Did this program only conclude with the song selection and practice? There were creative postures designed, a title carefully selected, and the entire design and development process executed in parallel. Production of such colorful displays were further compounded by complexities around where these postures can be displayed around the campus. Furthermore, there were digital media approaches to QR code generation, website for program announcements, and scheduling the campus theater for the per graduation requirements. Everyone of this needs had to go through many rounds of changes. I only saw the final outcome, just like a project manager stages the final outcome or the product owner approvers the product increment! There were many other team members that staged this performance!

Then, the post-production processes similar to the post-deployment considerations or the operational excellence initiatives.  Were they left out in this music program? No! I saw people who were streaming the performance for online audience, people collecting the photographs people took, and others, such as the teachers confirming the satisfaction and providing feedback.  There were also website updates about the program's success. 

So, the concepts of risk based thinking towards delivering a quality performance satisfying stakeholders with the agreed upon scope within the confirmed schedule and cost considerations involving appropriate timely management of resources and procuring work to other subject matter experts were all evident! Little do people relate to the concepts of integrated change management in a delivering projects such as this music performance! 

This is the reason why I keep mentioning project management principles are integral to everyone pursuing any degree so that they can excel in what they prepare themselves for! What do you think? 

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

TREAD carefully to transition benefits

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to deliver the benefits management module as part of the Program Management (PgMP) certification preparation class delivered by Kailash Upadhay from AddOn Skills. Subsequently, I was doing another corporate training where people were discussing about benefit as the financial gain to the organization as part of "Program Increment" planning in Scaled Agile. When I tried to explain the differences, people felt that program management is not relevant in adaptive approaches as agile focuses only on value.

As I reflected on these combined discussions, I felt that there is a larger disconnect on benefits and value and when different emerging frameworks play with words, the fundamental meaning is lost! I would like to call out my reflections from a dental visit blog (Rajagopalan, 2020) where I synthesized the importance of output, capabilities, outcomes, benefits, and value. Consequently, I would like to address two big myths!

  • First, in the world of project, program, and portfolio managing focusing on product management, benefits are program level deliverables. Programs represent the integrated outcomes that indicates an operational state. This outcome is derived from the integration of one or more components (which include projects, sub-programs, and program related activities). The utility value of these outcomes represent the benefit and the extent to which the benefits are realized represent the value. So, the concepts of benefits belong to traditional approaches and value belongs to adaptive approaches are incorrect.
  • Second, benefits lifecycle (these include the stages benefits identification, benefits analysis & planning, benefits delivery, benefits transition, and benefits sustenance) are done throughout the program lifecycle (program definition, program delivery, and program closure). Benefits are not related to financial ROI alone as customer satisfaction and employee morale are intangible benefits that can't be measured in financial value. I recall reading about Infosys being the first Indian company to ever record human resources capital and brand value as an asset in the balance sheet. Similarly gain can be increase in non-human capabilities, such as the facilities, equipment, materials, infrastructure, and supplies that can come through vendors, consultants, partners, and suppliers among many things. Companies launch programs constantly to address these types of customer and employee satisfaction initiatives as well as non-human resource capabilities (partner expansion, new vendors in the horizontal and vertical integration, mergers & acquisition, strategic expansion initiatives, etc.) So, to say that programs focus on financial metrics alone is incorrect. 

So, benefits are realized only in the operations and programs as well as the component initiatives are focused on benefit transition ( I am sure the Steven Covey's "Start with the End in Mind" is so relevant; this is all the more reason, why program management becomes a leadership role). When I managed my PMO, through experience and lessons learned, I created a mnemonic to help my team. It is called, "TREAD" which helps with project/program managers to think of transition activities. These include:

  1. Transfer of Risks: Risk Register is maintained throughout the program and its components. When we are ready to transition outcomes to operations, some of the risks may not be closed, some risks may be residual, and new risks may be present during the transition (e.g.: Training delivered needed to include subtitles because of the new operational team members have hearing disabilities and will have to have video subtitles for training to be effective).
  2. Review Documentation: One of the things that very frequently slips through the cracks is the documentation. Whether it is system or user documentation required for operational success or as part of contractual agreements or for training and maintenance, ensuring that these documentations are accurately reflecting the reality is important. Please don't limit yourself to thinking of software specific documentation alone. For instance, in order for some benefits to be valuable, there may have to be consumer specific documentation (Patient Guide), physician specific documentation (Important Safety Information, Prescribing Information) and branding documentation (brand guide, style guide, annotated visual aid, etc.) will be mandatory.  
  3. Evaluation of performance against acceptance criteria and metrics. Now, these are not just test execution and inspection but a deeper governance review with critical success factors (CSF), objectives and key results (OKR), and the key performance indicators (KPI). Ensuring such acceptance criteria against the business case along with potential lessons learned is important.
  4. Approval and Readiness: Emerging from all the above is the readiness of the governance to validate against traceability, auditability, and compliance to approve the transition to operations. Based on lessons learned and retrospectives, additional process may have to be reviewed and modified to facilitate continuous learning and continuous improvement.
  5. Disposition of Resources: Finally, matching against the guarantee and warranty requirements aligned with the procurement domain as well as resource domain, existing resources (people and non-people resources) may have to relieved. This makes these resources either available in the resource pool for other capital projects or avoid accumulating costs unnecessarily to the performing organization. 

So, TREAD carefully when transitioning benefits and don't fall victim to benefits are no longer relevant in Agile approaches or benefits only represent the financial ROI.


Rajagopalan, S. (2020). Lessons Learned on Strategic Project Management from a Dental Visit.

Singh, J.V. & Trivedi, B. (1999). Infosys Technologies Limited (A). The Wharton School of Management, University of Pennsylvania. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Barista Language: Communication Lessons from Local Coffee Shop Visit

I was spending my vacation with my son traveling through places in Colorado. We stopped by a local coffee shop for a little break and support the local economy instead of the franchise shops! I ordered a regular black coffee and got a Mexican strong roast coffee. It was not Americano. I said that this is not what I ordered and the shop asked for what I needed and gave me an alternative. As I started to sip my coffee, my son mentioned that I made an assumption about what a regular coffee meant and should learn about the barista language to order coffee. 

"Barista language" echoed in my ears loudly! As part of the people management aspects, I always used to say, "Communication is not what you say but what the other person understood!" (Rajagopalan, 2018). I often emphasize them in my trainings about managing stakeholder engagement by push, pull, and interactive communications in formal and informal settings relating to both verbal and non-verbal clues. But, my thoughts in all these areas were implicitly focused on formally recognized scripted languages used by people to speak and write! But, I missed that connection to the glossary of terms that people use naturally as part of their business.

For those that are not familiar, coffee could be served as "Latte, Coffe Mocha, Iced Coffee, Red Eye, Americano, Cortado, Cold brew, Cafe con Leche, Cappucion, Caffee Macchiato, Flat white, Pour over, and Long black." Each and every type of coffee has a different way of preparation, different origin of beans, different types of mixes, etc. Where is "Regular" here that I asked of the Barista asking for my coffee order? I assumed "Regular" is always the standard Americano! As I pondered over what my son was trying to emphasize, "Coffee is like a culture with each variation being a tribe of its own!" Naturally, therefore, there is a Barista language. No wonder the "Regular" that this coffee shop served was local to their culture and business! I am sure the same can be said for tea, wine, and other hot drinks. 

This is a new learning twist for me! I have always described communication as not what you said but what the other person understood (Rajagopalan, 2017). Unlike many that may think that this thought process may be aligned with people's personality, I based my thought mainly people's big picture vs details mindset, the attention span orientation, and their emotional connectivity to the topic! While the personality instruments, such as the most popular MBTI and DiSC are reliable and validated, it is an individuals' self-scoring mechanism. People change and so does their personality! So, if people use these instrument's labels, then, they may bring their bias that may not characterize others.

For instance, while I was studying in India, I never talked with others because I came from a Tamil instructional medium. I felt difficult to put my thoughts in words and embarrassed to speak due to the inability to speak and respond. Naturally, I felt like an introvert but I changed to be an extrovert. Actually, I feel like an ambivert because that level of quiet thinking is required for big picture abstract thinking (without which I couldn't have completed my PhD, pursued several certifications for my growth, or supported a PMO for 10 years) but lobby with many stakeholders and regulators for numerous projects and initiatives.

Yet, with all this understanding, how complacent sometimes I have been! How complacent and sometimes reticent people can be when they lack some of this  understanding and fail to make deeper connections! I understand Risk means Hazard, Harm, Issue, Impediment, Obstacle, Blocker, etc. Depending up on businesses, each sector comes up with its own language specific to that company. Let us practice in real life how to do this as I will try my best moving forward. Yes, communication is not about you think and say but what others perceive and understand! Learning is fun! Continuous learning is exciting!  Thanks to my son reemphasizing this thought!

Thoughts? Anyone want to express additional insights on? I am sure there are tea aficionados and wine connoisseurs?  Let us enrich communication with languages yet to be recognized formally or not yet adopted widely!

Rajagopalan, S. (2017). Organized Common Sense. Outskirts Press.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Risk Management: Birds' Eye View of some Standards and Regulations

I have been doing management training for several years preparing professionals in multiple industries for their career certifications and corporate training as well as mentoring some professionals. Through all these interactions and my personal desire for viewing standards and regulations from the lens of risk management, I have been exposed to some ISO standards and some regulations. At the same time, it has also become increasingly clear to me that many professionals are not aware of these standards and regulations. So, as I wrapped up another PMP session, I decided to capture some of these standards and regulations. 

ISO Standards
  1. From my own understanding of the standards and their implementation in multiple industries, I feel some standards are universally applicable to multiple industries. I am calling these standards as "core" standards. Such standards include ISO 9001 on Quality, ISO 27001 on Information Security, and ISO 14001 for Environment considerations. 
  2. The core standards may not be sufficient for certain industries and "additional" standards are required to put in place guidelines and guardrails to support projects, programs, and portfolios to support the industry specific compliance to operate as a business to serve their targeted customers. For example, the ISO 28005 for giving electronic port clearance before a ship/cruise leaves the port. I call these standards as "additional" standards mandatory for that industry.
  3. Furthermore, some reference standards give clearer guidance for multiple industries to benefit from overarching principles. The exact choice of guidance applicable may vary from one industry to another and therefore serve as "supporting" the companies in those industries depending upon the specific products and services. The ISO 31000 gives the risk management fundamentals with many techniques but not all techniques (such as the Fault Tree Analysis may not apply in small enterprises focusing on IT software products) may extend to all the small, medium, and large enterprises.  I call them as "supporting" because they serve as an additional reference. 
  4. The core and additional standards may act as either a de jure standard (i.e., required legally). Some of the additional and supporting standards may act as a de facto (used as a default best practice guideline) standard. 
  5. When I list "Multiple" in the "Industries" column, the appropriate standard can apply to any industry, such as the IT, Construction, Telecommunication, Transportation, Manufacturing, Healthcare, Agriculture, Aviation, Event Management, Food Safety, Banking, Financial Services, Investment, Insurance, Automotive, etc.
NOTE: The "core", "additional", and "supporting" are just my own reference classification to guide aspiring professionals in their own industry to gain adequate knowledge as part of their continuous improvement! 

Here is my high-level summary of ISO standards for people to look into. This table is not a complete summary of all standards in every industry. In fact, some of these standards have so many sub-standards that I will not be able to balance any justification if I go into any more detail. So, please consult the appropriate ISO standard or the appropriate standard body.

StandardDescriptionMy ClassificationIndustries
ISO 9001Quality ManagementCoreMultiple
ISO 27001Information SecurityCoreMultiple
ISO 14001EnvironmentCoreMultiple
ISO 31000Risk ManagementCoreMultiple
ISO 45001Occupational Health & Safety: Physical RisksSupportingMultiple
ISO 22301Business ContinuityAdditionalIT Industry
ISO 20000IT ServicesAdditionalIT Industry
ISO 45003Occupational Health & Safety: Psychosocial RisksAdditionalEngineering
ISO 28805Electronic Port ClearanceAdditionalShipping, Cruises
ISO 50001Energy Management ServicesAdditionalEnergy
ISO 27701Privacy ExtensionAdditionalIT Industry
ISO 26000Social ResponsibilitySupportingMultiple
ISO 17025Testing and Calibration LaboratoriesAdditionalHealthcare
ISO 13485Medical DevicesAdditionalHealthcare
ISO 22000Food & Saftey ManagementAdditionalRestaurant and Food Safety
ISO 37001Anti-bribery Management ServicesSupportingFinTech
ISO 20121Sustainable EventsSupportingEvent Management
ISO 14971Risk Management for Medical DevicesSupportingHealthcare
ISO 15854Aircraft EquipmentAdditionalAviation
ISO 17944Banking SecurityAdditionalBanking
ISO 12812Mobile Financial ServicesAdditionalBanking
ISO 15782Certificate ManagementAdditionalInvestment Services
ISO 17989Agriculture Tractors and MachineryAdditionalAgriculture
ISO 22002Food Safety & FarmingAdditionalAgriculture & Farming
ISO 22005Traceability in the Feed and Food ChainsAdditionalAgriculture & Animal Safety

Additional Industry Standards 
 While the above ISO standards are a good reference for the global community, there are also specific standards from other non-profit standards issuing organization (e.g.: IEEE, ANSI) and government entities (e.g.: Department of Defense, Food & Drug Association, Federal Trade Commission, etc.). Given below are some of standards issued by these organizations (The following is neither a complete list nor presented in any priority order). 
  • CMMC – DoD’s Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) is a standard proving risk management structured designed to ensure defense contractors are complying with the current security requirements while dealing with public information 
  • NIST CSF – National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) has many standards and is frequently known for the NIST Cyber security framework (CSF), which is a risk driven quality management standard for private firms to improve their processes and products while focusing mainly on maturity of security related processes 
  • CMMI – It is a Software Engineering Institute’s (SEI) structural quality guidance, called Capability Maturity Model Integration (CMMI) with multiple levels, targeted at the processes and products. Its focus is not only on security but also on overall organizational processes and policies. 
  • SOC2 – Has a series of audit controls from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA) on a company’s system and organization controls (SOC) as part of their internal risk assessment and treatment plans. SOC1 controls are mainly on financial controls while SOC2 controls are on CIA triad as well as security and privacy controls. 
  • FedRAMP – It is a US based Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program (FedRAMP) focusing on standardized approach to security assessment, authorization and continuous monitoring for cloud related products and services. 
  • FIPA is an IEEE Computer Society standards for Physical Agents and similar agent based technology interoperability. 
  • COBIT represents a set of control objectives for information technology from an international association on computerized security governance (ISACA) and is prevalent in may industries. 
  • ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) represents a collection of service delivery guidelines as a library for the entire lifecycle of any IT services within a company. 
  • PCI DSS is a set of data security standards (DSS) for the payment card industry (PCI) to address vulnerabilities for point of sale (POS) devices, mobile devices and computers, wireless hotspots, web shopping applications, and transmission of data. 
  • Six Sigma is a framework of qualitative and quantitative tools and techniques to aid the quality from an operational excellence perspective feeding prescriptive and predictive data analysis.
  • DICOM represents a set of digital communication (DICOM) standards for the level of encryption required for data transmission and storage for PACS (picture archiving and communication systems) systems used for medical diagnostic images.
  • PMBOK is a collection of business processes governing the management of projects, programs, and portfolios from the Project Management Institute for unique delivery of products, services, and results in any industry or organization. 

In addition to the standards discussed so far, there are regulations. Similar to standards, there are too many regulations. Given below are a few for consideration
  • HIPAA - Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act to protect patient health information
  • SOX - Sarbanes Oxley Act responsible for internal and disclosure controls
  • GDPR - General Data Protection Regulation from European Union governing the privacy rights of individuals
  • CCPA - California Consumer Protection Act governing the privacy rights of individuals
  • TCPA - Telephone Consumer Protection Act amended to protect the individuals against unsolicited text message, robot calling, do not call registry violations, etc.
  • COPA - Children's Online Protection Act governing the rights and responsibilities for protecting children from abuse and cybercrimes
  • PDMA - Prescription Drug Marketing Act governing the responsibilities for fair balance, efficacy, indicated use, black box warning, and adverse event consideration 
  • GAMP - General Automation Manufacturing Protocol in healthcare and allied industries governing the entire GxP (General Lab Practices, General Manufacturing Practices, etc.)
  • CSA - Computer System Assurance related practices governing the design, development and testing of requirements (regardless of project delivery frameworks
  • ASPICE - Automotive Software Process Improvement and Capability Determination to govern the detailed processes related to the original equipment manufacturers (OEM) whose products are included in the vehicles including but not limited to self-driving autonomous vehicles

Disclaimer: I am not a qualified professional to go into the details of any of these standard or regulations. I have captured them from my own limited understanding very briefly in this blog.  For all, references, please consult the appropriate ISO reference guides or the appropriate governing body for details. 

Do you think I should mention any other standard? Do you know of any industry that I can add to this standard? 

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Parenting Lessons: Managing for Happiness while focusing on Relevance

I had a friend visiting my family. With a smaller child who was requiring some attention for food and later for occupying time, both my friend and I were readjusting to ensure that the child stayed happy. After the child had its food, we were showing the limited toys I had or the TV shows the child saw. The friend ensured that both the toys or the shows were relevant and age-appropriate. After my friend left, I was thinking about how parents had that innate thought process of managing for happiness while delivering playful things with meaning!  We understand that people learn when they are happy. That learning is channeled for relevance for value. But, how much we practice this "Managing for happiness while focusing on relevance" in managing ourselves, our team, our products, etc.? 

If experience had taught me one thing, then, that is that we don't see things as they are but we see things as we are. We put our own lens through which we see everything! This is the reason why people with scientific facts and evidence claim there is global warming and then others refute it because of extreme cold and snow in unpredictable places! The truth does not lie but we see the portion of the truth and not the entire truth! Good managers and great leaders see beyond the abstraction and see where things could be! Whether it is people for skills and competency improvement or processes for experimentation and continuous improvement, nothing gets accomplished when people collectively don't collaborate and challenge themselves to share the need to be a part of something bigger than themselves. 

When a child is happy the learning occurs. The parent does not give everything the child wants but drives the focus for relevance. Somewhere along our professional journey, people become complacent with the status quo. This could be due to other life priorities or unwillingness to commit to learning! If learning stops, growth stops! If we want to grow, learning should continue! So, why are we limiting ourselves what we can learn in the early childhood days but fail to continue that childhood like curiosity continuously in personal and professional lives? 

As I thought through this process, I thought that product management and project management as part of program and portfolio management should also look at people and process in a different light! "Manage people for happiness and focus processes for meaning" is my thought. If we ensure people are happy and the processes are meaningful (avoiding mura, muri, and muda), then, people will self-organize, challenge the status quo, and demonstrate leadership. If people are unhappy and processes are bureaucratic or confusing, people get demotivated, settle for mediocrity, and withdraw! Yes, there are many motivation theories (Maslow's Hierarchy, Hertzberg 2-Factor theory, McClelland Theory of Needs, Vroom's expectancy theory, McGregor's Theory of X & Y, Ouchi's Theory of Z) and each has a solid base on multiple fields with their proven track record. 

In my humble opinion, none of these theories are adequately accommodated in today's middle management or executive leadership. The rush for quick wins to keep the business afloat seems to have seized the day. Ethics are compromised and design patterns are deprioritized to fit methodologies (not, I didn't say framework). To some extent, the middle management and executive leadership needs to hit the "reset" button and rethink how to manage for happiness and focus on processes for meaning." Here is my blueprint for these steps.

Suggested StepBrief Explanation
Build for Happiness
  • Think of Ikigai that focuses on profession, passion, mission, & vocation)
  • People are not going to be happy if one focuses only on profits, products, platforms
Manage for Innovation
  • Innovation need not be tied to roles & responsibilities. 
  • Remember that a good innovation management means roles & responsibilities are across multiple departments.
  • Incorporate innovation in everything we do - incremental, continuous, and radical. 
Accelerate for Learning
  • Don't promote a fail fast culture that compromises learning
  • Don't build methodologies (company specific processes) that deters learning
  • Fail forward all the time. This is when you learn! Failure is too great an opportunity to miss learning. 
Experiment for Customer
  • Relentlessly focus on customer. The world today is more about the customer's customers than just the paying client!
  • Don't rush to product persona without creating a market persona!
  • Persona is not people and so does not represent the voice of customer or voice of business. Actively Listen!
Play for Success
  • Promote "role" swaps. Don't just think in other's views but walk a mile in their shoes. 
  • Incorporate alternative thinking (risk management) with explorative experiments 
  • Explore childlike testing (unscripted, adhoc) for quality from the beginning (this is beyond manual and automation testing)
Nurture for Growth
  • Create the culture that you want
  • Operate as though your work is your own business
  • Lead for transformation and not for transaction

What are your thoughts? Would you agree? Add, Change or Modify anything? Share your thoughts!

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Does Agile Mandate CICD? Lessons from ADO West 2023

I was presenting at the Agile DevOps West in 2023 on business agility. Twice during this conference, I heard people say another presentation where they heard people say that continuous-integration and continuous-delivery (CICD) is required as part of the DevOps and teams are not practicing agility without implementing the CICD.  I feel that these are clear misinterpretations of how Agile is still misconstrued and how the principles of Agile and DevOps frameworks are viewed improperly from the technical lens of CICD. 

First, Agile is about self-organized team empowered culture adapting to change, experimenting with innovation, failing forward, and focusing on value maximization. When Takeuchi and Nonako (1986) first laid the foundation for Scrum, much before the Agile Manifesto was ever written, their focus of new product development was not isolated to IT industry or software development.  However, one of the biggest issues with Agile is that all the 17 contributors were men and came from IT industry representing very little diversity. Their myopic thinking and ignorance can be therefore be felt in three areas when they limited Agile to Software.

  1. Opening the Manifesto with "We are uncovering better ways of developing software by doing it and helping others do it."
  2. Including a statement, "Working Software over Comprehensive Documentation" in the Agile Manifesto.
  3. Including the principle, "Working software is the only measure of progress" as part of the 12 principles.
  4. Including the principle, "Deliver working software frequently from a couple of weeks to a couple of months, with a preference to the shorter timescale" as part of the 12 principles.

In my webinars and training, I question these statements. If you replace the word, "software" with "workware" (a term I coined indicating that workware could be software, hardware, firmware, healthcare, Construction contracts, FinTech processes eliminating overhead and waste), the statements do work absolutely fine to represent agility. These are the reasons why agility can be applied to individual career management and at home, religious places, and other industries where software is not part of their work at all. While it applies well in software development, it is not limited to software development. In fact, I have applied principles of agility outside of software development in a Theatrical context (Rajagopalan, 2013) and have practiced it at home.

Now, let us look at CICD. As part of the V-Model, any solution developed goes through various stakeholders that shape the solution. Clear and concise representation of the requirements by the business analyst, design of the overarching architecture by system analyst and system engineer, the development of the solution by the engineer. Testing therefore is checking at multiple levels to check for solution developed and system designed against the requirements requiring multiple levels of testing itself. The idea is to minimize waste by incrementally test every increment to the solution and also ensure that the increment is a good candidate for deployment. Here is where a few principles have to be kept in mind.

The Continuous Integration (CI) is required to ensure that every solution increment is integrated and regressed with already working and previously released functionality. This aspect is the first area of CI to ensure the new code has required boundary checking (no uninitialized variables, no memory leak, all code paths are covered) in addition to running automated test cases confirming all previous functionality  so that the automation tests can run on the changes. 

Not all new code can't be deployed to a production environment from CI functionality. Many reasons, such as multiple staged environment (like test, staging, pre-production, and production) may be required before additional tests like penetration testing and load testing may be mandated. Some industries may require a special group to handle validation as a separate activity outside of quality control, such as in healthcare and life sciences, for performance qualification (PQ handled frequently by the QC team), Operational Qualification (OQ) and Installation Qualification (IQ) that may be handled by a validation team and/or installation team appropriately. Therefore, CD may also mean continuous delivery to other environments in a linear pipeline. So, Continuous Delivery precedes Continuous Deployment. 

Furthermore, even if the continuous delivery succeeds in all the environments or the validation (OQ, IQ, for instance), the new increments can't be released. In some organizations, such as in pharmaceutical companies, new increments can not be released to production until approval to distribute (ATD) is provided from the OPDP (Office of Prescription Drug Promotion) after medical, legal, and regulatory review and approval. Any functionality released to production prior to this ATD (sometimes called AFD - Approval For Dissemination) is considered violation of OPDP protocols. 

Alternatively, it is possible that multiple teams are working together. So, it is possible that an additional level of release level testing of all the functionality consolidated from each team's outcomes will have to be assessed. These are called single cadence release at the release level (containing multiple iterations from multiple teams). 

When you factor all these thoughts of why CI is required and the various instances of CD (continuous delivery and continuous deployment), the CICD itself is focused on the continuous improvement (which is also abbreviated sometimes as CI) of software development life cycle processes. So, CICD is definitely supporting agility but agility does not require CICD at all as agility is not restricted to software development in the IT industry. 

Now, let us extend the discussion to DevOps. The fundamental principles behind DevOps is also a team based culture focused on collaboration, data-based decision-making, customer-centric decision-making, constant improvement, responsibility throughout the lifecycle, automation, and treating failure as a learning opportunity (Roddewig, 2021). The DevOps institute (n.d) itself proclaims in their CALMS (culutre, automation, lean, measurement, sharing) these principles outlining DevOps as a team-oriented culture enabling framework. While CICD is part of DevOps infinity cycle to have the delivery team and the infrastructure team to collaborate on their collective accountability, CICD is only one part of the DevOps framework. 

When all these ideas are integrated together, let us tell the right story. Just because a team does not use CICD or deploy increments to production frequently and directly after successful CI, it does not mean the team is less agile. Agile and DevOps serve as two book ends including Continuous Integration, Continuous Delivery, and Continuous Deployment. All elements of CICD support Agile and DevOps but Agile itself does not mandate CICD. 


DevOps Foundation Blueprint (n.d.). DevOps Institute.

Rajagopalan, S. (2013). Agility outside of Software Development: A case study from Theatrical Play.

Roddewig, S. (2021). 7 Principles of DevOps for Successful Development Teams.

Takeuchi, H. & Nonaki, I. (1986, January). The New New Product Development Game. Harvard Business Review, 64(1), 137-146.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Ingredients of a Growth Mindset: Connecting with Movies

I was watching a few movie clips to pass the time after a long week. And, I watched the Harry Potter and Sorcerer stone clip on how Harry Potter was chasing one of the flying keys among many other masquerading keys. I had an idea at that point about having not one key but many keys that have to work together to unlock the door of "Growth Mindset." In Lean framework, we categorize the growth mindset as the ability to learn about anything required by learning from failure, growing from challenges, and focusing attitude and efforts towards continuous growth. 

Inspired from this movie clip, I thought of various attributes of a growth mindset. In a fun way, I brainstormed with my sons on what growth meant to them in their school and career. I even discussed some of my ideas with my wife. Interestingly and unknown to me, I came up with eight different attributes that seemed to follow a pattern that were alphabetically sequenced. Now, I engaged with some creative fun to model these attributes as a key pointing towards the center (if the key looked like a carrot or radish, that demonstrates my creative ability 🤣) I added five concentric circles. Think of them as the Likert-5 scale with 1 at the outer ring and 5 being at the inner ring. The idea is that all the keys must be locked in simultaneously towards the inner core for growth to completely materialize.

Dr. Sriram Rajagopalan's depiction of Eight Keys to a Growth Mindset 

Attitude is having that "Power of Now" contagious enthusiasm. I am not saying it is being always optimistic but being a realist to "practice the choice to see the brighter side of things" while "mitigating the risks or blind spots" (After all, isn't that what the Johari Window talks about without mentioning the word "Risk!"). As you can see, one's attitude is a function of their ability to recognize that failure is a stepping stone to success. It is like that "Moana" who choose to fight!

Balance is having the emotional stability to "continuously play both yin and yang to be the best one can be." That is, have the delicate physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual state of mind. It is a demonstration of your practice to choose the right attitude every day. True that life gets along our way and no plans work out as planned. Balance is recognizing this inner need! It is like that Po in Kung Fu Panda managing to find "inner peace" of "Aladdin" figuring a way out calmly when Jafar locks him in a cave. Robert Schuller calls it, "Tough times never last but tough people do!"

Commitment is "following up and following through with actions to deliver results." (Please follow my blog on what follow-through is and how it differs from follow-up) It is laying the foundation with training, having mentors and coaches, facilitating and practicing to walk the talk. Commitment derives from attitude and balance. Commitment shows character as we put SMART plans to grow and be an example for others. Woody in Toy's story demonstrates commitments towards his other team toys even when the going gets tough. At the same time, Woody demonstrates the right attitude when necessary (when other toys need help) and demonstrates the balance to keep Lightyear in check on his mission.

Divergent is having that "open mindset towards alternative thinking" (T, Pi, E-shaped skill development). Concepts like design thinking and system thinking require one to have a big picture mindset. Our ability to grow will be limited if we are comfortable with what our strengths are. The longer we practice this "comfort zone" approach, the sooner our strengths will become our weakness and threat reducing or removing the opportunities. Be comfortable with discomfort and that is the only way to guarantee success. I always say that the best way to guarantee my stability is how I eliminate myself by leaving behind a legacy while seeking new ways to serve. Edna from Mr. Incredible exemplifies creating suites that best meet the super character needs with divergent thinking applying multiple experiments.

Empathy is showing that we care! Empathy is demonstrating our commitment (action) towards causes that matter as well as people that matter! It is the "Pay it Forward" (which is a movie by itself) mindset that demonstrate not only divergent mindset towards people. Who else but Cinderalla can demonstrate such kindness and empathy with actions to support all the animal friends! She is the perfect example for Empathy! Rafiki in Lion King has to demonstrate that empathy and seek Simba out!

Focus is letting "distractions not impede commitment to actions!" Learning from mistakes and applying fail-forward thinking taking responsibility for actions are traits of focus. Not multitasking but getting jobs done even when risks and challenges throw a wrench! Po demonstrates continuous learning from every failure (although he needs his team to keep his balance) and Master Shifu learns from his mistakes that his teaching has to be modified to teach Po.

Global thinking is thinking beyond the local constraints and limitations. It is looking at the macroscopic impact ethically and morally rather than conventional limitations. It requires one to raise above the constraint with "divergent" thinking. While "selfless" attitude brings a combination of "empathy" and "focus," the resulting commitment also requires one to "balance" themselves in their honest pursuit of results. Mulan may have left as an impostor to save her father from King's orders, but the pursuit was due to a need to serve the entire country. She never gave up even when her identity was revealed. That's a commitment to global thinking.

Honesty is a commitment to character, integrity, and ethics. "You are your own benchmark, right!" Even when you did something wrong, it takes courage to stand up for your failure or lack of actions. Only then anyone can help you heal so that you don't feel continuously hurt. If Simba was honest about why he thought he was a failure from the stampede fiasco with Rafiki, would Rafiki have been successful? No. It is that commitment to character that stands tall as honesty.  Maui and Moana had to be honest with each other reconciling their fear and goals before they could emerge victorious as a team.

As you can see, each attribute feeds on each other. If Kaizen or Continuous Improvement is important, all these elements are required! But, not all of us may be at the level we need to be at to lock in to the inner core and unlock opportunities. Whether it is a personal ambition or professional goal, all these elements should be at their maximum before they can be near the field-force of the inner core and bring the ikigai (the reason for existence or the famous questions like "what makes you happy?" or "what makes your heart sing?") to you!

What do you think? This was a fun exercise for me! Look forward to your thoughts on what other attributes I may have missed and how it may be unique and different from any of the eight attributes. I am all ears! 

Disclaimer: All the characters to movies are referenced only to make connections with the principles. The movies and the character names belong to the respective owners. 


Rajagopalan, S. (2018).

Friday, April 21, 2023

Evolution and Revolution of Change Management

As I was in the last training session with my current project management professional training batch, I was discussing about how change sticks within an organization. As I differentiate governance processes for managing changes within the context of a project or program related from introducing large scale change management, questions emerged on what is change management. Some members who had attended a 2-day Scrum Master class mentioned about ADKAR and another management learner discussed about Kotter's change management. 

And, both these change management frameworks are good and relevant. While both the ADKAR and Kotter's change management frameworks are powerful and relevant in today's organizational environment, the knowledge of the change management evolution can help understand how change is perceived, planned for, and implemented. One can then appreciate the richness of the history in connections with both the influence and impact of change management framework. 

Dr. Sriram Rajagopalan's Synthesis of Change Management Framework Timeline

YearModel NameBrief Explanation
~1947Kurt Lewin 3-Stage
  • Kurt Lewin (1947) used the sociology and social science  concepts to introduce a 3-stage process.
  • These 3-stages are unfreeze, change, and refreeze.
  • Before change can take place, a period of time has to be allowed where no changes are allowed and change is internalized. 
  • Then change takes places as employees show involvement. This leads to knowledge sharing, leadership involvement to support the experiments, and then plans are put in place to implement the change. 
  • As change slowly sticks, more change may be required where time has to be allowed for the new changes to be internalized before the cycle repeats.
  • Lewin used the analogy of a block of ice to be unfrozen to become water and then the water put in desired containers to be frozen again into ice.  
~1969Kuber-Ross Change Curve
  • Elisabeth Kuber-Ross (1969) ap6roached change from how people on the dying bed teach about change. 
  • This change theory comes from medical field particularly in hospice and hospital care. 
  • Ross introduced the Change curve to demonstrate how people process change through their emotional lens of nearing end of life or seeing their loved ones or patients approach end of life. 
  • People process the emotions of shock, denial, and disbelief of death. This frustration may turn into fear or anger. Then, they accept the immutable reality and slowly commit to adapting to the required change.
  • During the first two stages of shock or frustration, no amount of motivation or feedback will be processed (because they are not actively listening - emotions have taken over).
  • Slow and steady support and constructive feedback will help in the next stages rather than rushing through change. 
  • While the stages of the Change Curve is very distinct from this field, these concepts really are analogous to how changes to have be unfrozen (not introduced too quickly) in the first two stages and slowly introduced in the change (accept) and freeze (commit) stages.
~1980McKinsey 7S Model
  • Starting around mid 1970's, Waterman, Peters, and Phillips (1980) from McKinsey (a consulting organization) introduced the first organizational change management framework. 
  • The seven stages were (no particular order) are strategy, structure, systems, skills, style, staff and shared values. 
  • Strategy related to firm's alignment of their resources and capabilities to create competitive advantage.
  • Structure focused on the way the firm is organized to deliver value using hierarchical relationships and roles and responsibilities.
  • Systems tied the business and technical infrastructure to realize the goals and objectives.
  • Shared values emphasized the display of behaviors supporting the firm's mission and vision.
  • Style highlighted how the company's leaders demonstrated an inclusive culture for leadership to thrive.
  • Staff comprised of the capabilities, skills, and competencies as well as the firm's ability to manage capacity, transition, and sustenance.
  • Skills showed the firm's ability to deliver work and evaluate performance improvements. 
~1991Bridges Transition Model
  • Bridges (1991) Transition model differentiates change from transition. It states that changes [anyway] happen to people. Transition, [however], is internal - it's what happens in people's mind when facing and experiencing change. 
  • This model draws parallel with the Kuber Ross' Change Curve Model in terms of emotions felt as change is processed.
  • The three stages in this model include Ending, Neutral Zone, and New Beginning. 
  • In the ending phase, people feel frustrated, show anger, demonstrate low morale and productivity, and are worried about future. They find it hard to lose and let go.
  • But, this ending phase has to end before they can arrive at the neutral zone. They are not ready for change yet as they feel adrift and lost. More listening ears are required similar to the other models in this stage.
  • As they begin to leave the neutral zone, they feel they are facing a new beginning. The promise of the future brings new energy and a willingness to learn. With support and feedback, the change begins to stick with their renewed commitment. 
~1996Kotter 8-Step Model
  • Kotter (1996) underpinned an action-oriented steps for change to stick within an organization. It improves on 7S framework in that the steps are actionable. 
  • The steps are cyclical and iterate progressively on small increments of change. (Perhaps why more Agile practitioners like this approach)
  • The 8-steps in the same sequence include the following. They are self-explanatory. 
    1. Creating a Sense of Urgency
    2. Forming a Guiding Coalition
    3. Developing Vision and Strategies
    4. Communicating the Change
    5. Remove Barriers to Action
    6. Accomplish Short-Term Wins
    7. Build on the Change
    8. Make Change Stick
~2006Hiatt's ADKAR Model
  • More frequently called as Prosci's Model due to its adoption in Prosci, this model is relatively recent. The model builds on five stages.
  • These include in the same sequence.
    1. Awareness - Creates conscious need for change (Similar to creating sense of urgency)
    2. Desire - Shows intent to participate and support change (Similar to forming a guiding coalition)
    3. Knowledge - Demonstrates the skills and competencies on planning for change (Connects with developing vision & strategies and communicating the change)
    4. Ability - Highlights the desired skills and behaviors to implement change (Connects with removing barriers, accomplishing short-term wins, and building on change)
    5. Reinforcement - Shows steps needed to sustain change (Connects with building on change and making changes stick).

Have I missed out on any model or misinterpreted any connections to models? Share your thoughts.


Bridges, W. & Bridges, S. (1991). Managing Transitions. Boston, MA: Da Capo Lifelong Books.

Hiatt, J.M. (2006). ADKAR: A model for change in business, government, and our community. Loveland, CO: Prosci, Inc.

Kotter, J.P. (1996). Leading Change. Boston, MA: Barvard Business School Press

Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying: What the dying have to teach doctors, nurses, clergy & their own families. New York: Scribner, An imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Lewin, K. (1947). Field theory in social science. New York, NY: Harper & Row

ADKAR Model (n.d.)  Prosci.

Waterman, R., Peters, T. and Phillips, J. (1980). Structure is not organization. Business Horizons, 23 (3), 14–26

Friday, March 10, 2023

Quality is a function of Risk

I was recalling the statement, "Quality = f (Risk)," in one of my PMP training sessions and one of them asked how quality is connected with risk. The premise behind this thought was on the iron-triangle thinking that quality is controlled by scope, schedule, and cost! It seems like we have a lot of work to do still in understanding about risk and its impact!  

As this person was in the semi-conductor space, I reasoned risk is like the hard-wired interrupt that takes precedence over soft-logic in the way microprocessor operates. That got the attention. So, I continued to make connection on the immediate topic of the "Cost of Quality" we were discussing and reasoned out the importance of risk.

Dr. Sriram Rajagopalan's rendition of Quality is a function of Risk

In the diagram above, I have presented the cost of quality made up of two important branches. These are cost of conformance to avoid risks happening in the first place and the cost of non-conformance to address risks that have happened. 

  • To avoid risks as part of the cost of non-conformance, the best approach is to practice the "wisdom of the ages" saying, "Prevention is better than cure!" Here we take proactive steps to ensure quality planning (as part of the Quality trilogy) includes preemptive measures. This involves building quality using quality assurance (QA) with process oriented and proactive steps to train people, have multiple documentation (caters to multiple modes of learning), the appropriate equipment required and the required amount of time to do things correctly (e.g.: right-sizing stories to fit into the timebox, risk driven development methods to prioritize). 
  • The next step is to evaluate how well our controls are working by performing quality audit on the work (PM/PO owns the quality audit). Here, quality control (QC) comes from delivery team comes in with reactive and product oriented methods like testing (product testing), inspection (Gemba Walks), etc. 
  • Now, if the errors are released such as not missed compliance or security considerations or misinterpreted requirements, or other forms of requests like change request or enhancements are noted, depending upon the triaging process, these could be show-stoppers disallowing the user to realize the intended benefit thus risking value delivery. So, rework may be required or products may be have discarded (prototyping or physical products) as scrap. These corrective actions are adding more time and cost and increases the opportunity cost of people unavailable for improving the benefit in the current project (working on newer functionality) or other business initiatives. Time may translate further into budget risks as available funding may be depleted to pay for contractors and infrastructure.  
  • Finally, if these internal errors were not caught and were released to the customer, they become escaped defects! This impacts now the customer's value delivery life cycle as our faulty products may be used in their product assembly or our faulty code may be impacting their applications built. These translates into liabilities for the company, Warranty claims (ongoing free support, recall for the products at our expense) and perhaps even the business lost to competitors. 
As you can see, there are various forms of risks that interface the quality assurance, quality control, and escaped defects side of the equation with some additional risks foundational to the entire quality function in the company through its projects, program, and portfolio functions. The sooner they are addressed (as noted in the green color), the lesser the expenses are. As time passes through this cost of quality function from left to right, the intensity and visibility of risks through corrective and preventive actions (CAPA) to the business is high (as noted in color gradient going to red). 

So, am I not correct to say, "Quality = function(risk)"? Share your thoughts.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Risk Driven Prioritization: Challenges to Prioritization Techniques

I have always felt that if value is the focus of prioritization, the value should be prioritized equally by the risks to delivery. In other words, engaging in the powerful questions (Rajagopalan, 2015) helps a lot and this behavior is driven from the leadership mindset (Rajagopalan, 2013). When sufficient focus of risks to delivery or risks to non-compliance exists, value is not delivered as the benefits are not realized! Instead, we run into the challenges of techniques without understanding risks.

Given below are most frequently used prioritization techniques and a brief discussion on what they miss that should be factored if not done consciously. 

TechniqueDescriptionRisk Thoughts
  • Uses four different variables (Reach, Impact, Confidence and Effort).
  • Reach (R) is an estimate of number of people that will be impacted.
  • Impact (I) is an estimate the extent of impact (like 5-high, 3-medium, 1-low).
  • Confidence (C) is the team's confidence on the estimates given for reach and impact.
  • Effort (E) is an estimate of time in number of months.
  • The formula is: (R*I*C) / E

On a positive note, it uses some level of analysis to compute the estimate. But, this is a very ambiguous approach for the following reasons. 
  • The scale used for R, I, and C are very arbitrary (somewhat ordinal in nature)
  • There is not any data driven or risk planning on the number of people reached. Many organizations even find it difficulty to quantify the reach and come up with a guess.
  • Impact could be subjective in people's mind and there is no risk breakdown structure like explanation of what a 5-High is. 
  • Confidence is also subjective and can not replace the margin of error (or standard deviation).
  • So, the result, while helpful can't truly help prioritization. 
  • Weighted Short Job First addresses is somewhat analogous to RICE approach except that it uses different variables.
  • It focuses on business value in terms of the cost of delay and job size.
  • The cost of delay includes perceived Business Value (BV), Time Criticality (TC) and Risk Reduction (RR) (or Opportunity Enablement (OE).
  • The formula is:
    • (BV+TC+RR or OE) / Job Size
This approach has the same challenges as RICE but also improves on RICE somewhat significantly.
  • It recommends the use of a Fibonacci type of scale for BV, TC, and RR/OE. That is an improvement compared to the ordinal type of subjective ranking. 
  • Unlike RICE that uses a product of reach, impact, confidence, WSTF uses a summation. 
  • Time Criticality is measured as sense of urgency without any due consideration for risks. 
  • Risk Reduction or Opportunity Enablement is specifically listed here risk exposure scores are often a product of probability, impact, and sometimes detectability. So, adding risks do not help with true risk driven prioritization.
  • Uses approaches similar to the Eisenhower Matrix.
  • Uses four categories Must, Should, Could, and Wont (This is WONT, i.e., NOT do) to address prioritization.
  • Must is associated critical element without which the project can't provide value
  • Should is associated with important elements but not a must and can be deprioritized or postponed. 
  • Could is considered non-essential or more of a nice to have enhancements or change requests.
  • Won't have are anything not going to be addressed now or in the near future.
All these four levels (Must, Should, Could, Won't) are subjective interpretations. Granted that there is some amount of categorization but several ambiguities remain.
  • The approach is biased based on subjective priority.
  • There is no evaluation of impact (or severity).
  • How are the relative priority between two Must items determined?
  • Why is a Must Item a must?
  • When will a Should Item be picked?

As you can see, this approach is a good start but not a good one for prioritization at all. It only helps with a first level of categorization and is not the final level of prioritization. This is the reason why this approach is sometimes associated with Eisenhower Matrix which President Eisenhower used for decision-making on what he needs to address and what he needs to delegate! 

Another technique I have heard is Yes-No-Not now-Never. To me, this is analogous to MoSCoW and not much different.

Kano Model
  • This model uses delighters, performance, and basic as the drivers from a consumer market perspective.
  • Basic features are those that are normalized and expected. Doing them does not give an edge but not having them will be a competitive disadvantage. (Similar to Hygiene factors in Motivation Theory)
  • Performance features are those that are required. It is minimal expectations of the market. 
  • Delighters are those features that people want to see or didn't expect that will see! Doing them gives a competitive edge. (Similar to the Satisfiers in Motivation Theory) 
This model is driven from the market research. Almost like a persona expectations of the market behavior. However, while it may serve as an external risk triggers, it does not quantify further (e.g.: deeper dive of PESTLEED, TECOP, etc.) and meet the individual risk driven considerations (e.g.: VRIO) for a product. Again, it is a good categorization for product backlog but not help with prioritization of the individual items. 
100-PointsThis approach is actually an approach to engage stakeholders to prioritize when more than one is influencing or impacted. 
  • Each stakeholder has 100-points to begin with. 
  • Each requirement (or feature) is associated with a value that the team things will take to implement. (More like a price of a feature; hence this approach is also called 100-Virtual Currency Method)
  • The stakeholders place their 100-points spread out on these features.
  • A new cumulative sum is computed for each feature based on the stakeholder input.
  • The highest value items are prioritized based on this cumulative sum (descending order).
This approach is fine but still has the challenge of how risks are communicated to the stakeholders and how much risks are factored by the stakeholders. 
Bias and influence can help a feature be prioritized that the team can't handle or deliver.
Relative PrioritizationThis approach is for the team to prioritize items already prioritized. This helps with relative prioritization (for instance if two features are high, which one should be delivered first.)

As you can see, each technique has its own strengths and weaknesses. If it works for you, great! But, risks are something that one has to quantify and evaluate. In fact, I call such approach to risk based prioritization as risk driven development (RDD). Here, the risks are identified, assessed, and evaluated with a risk exposure score. These risks are associated with requirements as well as the test cases (conformation criteria) as not all requirements are easy to test. Based on the sum of the risk scores on a requirement and test cases, the features can be prioritized. It is possible to use other methods in conjunction with this so long as risk are considered and there is a ratio level scoring mechanism included or at least a good risk breakdown structure included to avoid bias or subjective interpretation. 

What are your thoughts? Please share.

Rajagopalan, S. (2013). Essential Leadership behaviors for Agile Transformation.

Rajagopalan, S. (2015). Client Management: The influence of powerful questions.

Sunday, January 15, 2023

Model Based System Engineering (MBSE): Relating Systems to Value

As part of the product analysis methods, I was discussing that besides the product breakdown splitting a product into separate components for MVP and MBI/MMF and the requirements analysis splitting stories into smaller chunks for estimation and delivery, the model based system engineering (MBSE) concepts, such as the system engineering, systems analysis, value engineering, and value analysis, are tightly integrated looking at the technical subsystem as nucleus of a secure, safe, stable, and sustainable product. Some of the familiar concepts of model based system engineering were unclear which is foundational to product development as emphasized by the agile principle, "Business and Technical stakeholders must work together daily!" While each industry may create different models depending on the specific products and its impact on clients and customers, a few generic MBSE concepts apply in all the industries. 

The MBSE concept is analogous to the fable that I heard in India about six blind children touching an elephant and describing the elephant. If elephant is the system and the blind children are the various stakeholders, we are describing the system from what we think we see/feel. Security, for instance, has a different meaning for the technical team members compared to the end users.

For simplicity, let us define the model as a feature-box (functional requirements and non-functional specifications) that adequately represents the set of inputs that can interface requiring the model to prioritize and the set of outputs it will generate. The model's behavior is controlled by a set of complex rules that are manageable. This model now represents the system that must be viewed closely and from far! This requires the system architect not only to see the auditability of the system for diagnosis (such as behavior, paths taken and trail left, considerations for gracious shutdown, etc.). So, how does the system analysis and system engineering differ? 

The system analyst will use a combination of techniques (e.g.: data modeling, interface analysis, data flow diagram, and alerts & event triggers) to refine the model! This is reviewing the model at a close distance. So, the system analyst frequently will consider using class diagram, functional decomposition, sequence diagram, network diagram, entity-relationship model, and deployment diagram as well as the total-quality-management (TQM) foundations like the flowchart, scatter diagram, checklist, root cause analysis, and histogram. But, the system engineering discipline observes the model from a long distance. 

Therefore the system engineer focuses on interference defining the boundary of the system (where the system can no longer sustain itself to be valuable), behaviors that exposes the system's vulnerabilities (model is no longer safe or secure without subjecting itself for damage or causing harm to others). The system engineer then uses market analysis, business rules analysis, concept modeling, scenario analysis, risk analysis, state modeling, interface analysis, decision-modeling, Gemba Walks, workshops, focus interviewing, SWOT/TOWS analysis, benchmarking, and brainstorming further supplemented by TQM techniques like control chart and pareto charts. Please note that these are additional techniques beyond the techniques used in the system analysis.

Now, both the system analysis and system engineering concepts can be extended to the extent of benefit (value) derived by the users and the performing organization.  These values can be looked at from multiple angles. One approach is the approach that I normally recommend as custom value, business value, technical value, and process value (Rajagopalan, 2019).  The goal of these exercises are not only to protect the customers and business but also look at efficiency gains through the combination of both the process and technical value giving a competitive market value! When all these areas are reasonably protected, they also enhance the future value (that can be measured using ROI, NPV, IRR) of the product within the product portfolio. The short-term focus will be value analysis and the long term focus will be value engineering. 

Another lens, that in my humble opinion, extends from the previous discussions is how the model is sustained and supported. From this lens, we can evaluate model from flow (hence Lean), governance (hence Change Management), behavior (Systems Engineering and Value Engineering concepts mentioned earlier) and decision-making (hence Risk Management discipline, Costing Principles, and Costs of Quality considerations). A few refinements are required here.

  • Flow is often thought of as work progressing across the various status. This is horizontal flow. Flow also should be looked at vertically between projects, programs, and portfolios and multiple systems or projects that have to work together. 
  • Change Management concepts extend in such vertical value flow in terms of risk management, decision-making, funding, and resource planning that happens in program management, PI planning in scaling agile approaches, etc. 
  • Governance can be supported at a lower level with workflows that enable faster decision-making and system traceability & auditability. 
  • Behavior can vary very widely depending on the organizational processes as well as the maturity/direction required by the team. Hence, it could range from as simple as time tracking, waiting time evaluation, burn rate as well as evaluating negotiation considerations, team health, conflict resolution, etc. 
  • The decision-making can be supported by some of the governance considerations but it could also transcend other work authorization systems based on extensive funding considerations (e.g.: Efficient Frontier, portfolio balancing, resource optimization, etc.). 
What else I may be missing in MBSE definition? Please expand.


Rajagopalan, S. (2019). Requirements Management: A value mapping exercise.

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

Overview of Stakeholder Engagement Techniques

Inspired by the quote, "Tell me about your friends, I will tell you who you are!" I used to tell any project manager "Tell me about stakeholder engagement strategy, I will tell you how successful your project will be!"  This is the same message when a group of learners in a project management professional certification asked about which models to use in stakeholder engagement.  Since projects come in many sizes of varying complexity and not all stakeholders are the same, there is no one correct answer for selecting the model that fits! 

Furthermore, Palan (2020) provides four different stakeholder persona which is a very interesting way to look at how stakeholders may be categorized. These include the following. So, each stakeholder persona focuses on several areas of the problem and their overall perception needs to be managed. Finally, in the end, all stakeholder engagement approaches are getting people to identify, deliver, and sustain value maximization (Barth, Ulvenblad, & Ulvenblad, 2017).

  • HIPPO (Highest Paid Person's Opinion), 
  • WOLF (Working on Latest Fire), 
  • RHINO (Really High-value New Opportunity), and 
  • Zebra (Zero Evidence But Really Arrogant).

In my book on Organized Common Sense (Rajagopalan, 2018), I expand on a basic technique on the ABC of Stakeholder. It is understanding the authority (power), behavior (influence) they have on people, and the extent of concern or care (interest). Over the years of my experience managing stakeholders, I call these principles the ABC of stakeholders. Now, as the project size varies and depending on the stage the project is in, there are many techniques. Some are very common and some are not very common. 

  1. Power-Interest Grid
    • This is a very common technique (PMBOK, 2017) where people map the stakeholder engagement strategy with four quadrants. The X-axis has a interest on low-to-high scale and the Y-axis has the power on a low-to-high scale with (low, low) at the origin. Accordingly, four strategies emerge.
      • High-Power, High-Interest 👉Manage Closely (Sponsor, Regulators)
      • High-Power, Low-Interest 👉Keep Satisfied (Other Decision-Makers, Suppliers)
      • Low-Power, High-Interest 👉Keep Informed (Delivery Team, Operational Team)
      • Low-Power, Low-Interest 👉Monitor Marginally (Employees, Users)
    • This approach is good for small-to-medium projects but doesn't scale very well for larger projects unless only critical stakeholders are captured. 
  2. Stakeholder Map
    • While the Power-Interest Grid is a good one to identify the way you engage with people, one can draw significant stakeholder-to-stakeholder influence, such as who has the listening ears of another, who has more trustworthy relationship, who can gather insights from other sources, etc. 
    • The knowledge of these behavioral influence map is inferred and observed and not necessarily drawn from the title or hierarchy in the organizational chart. 
    • People can use arrows, colors, and size of the stakeholder circle in the quadrant to draw such influence directions so that this knowledge furthermore can be used (Anonymous, personal communication, PMI MassBay Chapter Meeting, 2014). 
    • Since "influence" is about leadership and leadership is not just with a title, I prefer the Power-Interest over "Influence-Interest" or "Influence-Impact" or "Power-Influence" diagrams. 
    • This approach is good for small-to-medium projects but doesn't scale very well for larger projects unless only critical stakeholders are captured.
  3. Stakeholder Cube
    • This approach is an attempt to scale power-interest gird (PMBOK, 2017) with the influence making three dimensions and evaluating the engagement strategy.
    • This approach, in my experience, is more theoretical than practical as it is very hard for people conceptualize the strategy in three dimensions with influence being an observed behavior that can't be mapped to a quantitative or qualitative scale.
  4. RACI
    • This is a popular tabular structure indicating responsibility assignment matrix (RAM) (PMBOK, 2017) that maps people or the role to four areas. They include responsible, accountable, consulted, and informed (Rajagopalan, 2014a). 
    • There are many conceptual errors people inculcate due to the lack of understanding the power of this tool. Please read Rajagopalan (2014b) for more details.
    • This tool will work well for larger projects, programs, and portfolios but care is required in capturing more critical stakeholders. 
  5. Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix
    • This is another good tool to evaluate the perception of the stakeholders' journey (PMBOK, 2017) in your project. Typically, these perceptions are that they are unaware of the project, negatively influenced and so resistant, neutral about supporting the project due to lack of connection with the project outcomes, supportive of project's outcome, or champions of the project.  Depending upon what stage of the stakeholder journey they are in, the strategy may involve informing, educating, or committing them. 
    • This is also a good tool for small-to-medium projects. It can scale well for a larger project, program, or portfolio with some modifications of the critical stakeholders captured.
  6. Stakeholder Register
    • This is another popular tool and is more of a tabular structure (PMBOK, 2017) summarize essential details. It may be difficult to read the diagram and charts and so this structure helps with stakeholder-engagement to communication management plan. 
  7. Salience Model
    • This is a good model that makes the first attempt to scale to larger initiatives (PMBOK, 2017). Here, three variables are evaluated and these include power, legitimacy, and urgency. 
    • It uses the Powe∩Legitimacy∩Urgency diagram to demonstrate seven types of stakeholders. 
    • These involve dormant, discretionary, demanding stakeholders at the external side of power, legitimacy and urgency.
    • The dominant stakeholder is between power and legitimacy, the dependent stakeholder is between legitimacy and urgency, and the dangerous stakeholder is between power and urgency. 
    • The definitive stakeholder is at the intersection.
    • The model does not recommend removing any type of stakeholder but expects one to evaluate the characteristics of when to engage them.
  8. CATWOE Analysis
    • This model recommends (Bergvall-Kåreborn, Mirijamdotter, Basden, 2004) looking at the categories of stakeholders and evaluate perceptions from their viewpoint. 
    • It stands for customer, actor, transformation, worldwide view, owner, and environment. 
      • Customer 👉 Mostly made up of company paying client or the client's customers or the company's direct end-users
      • Actor 👉Any person or group responsible for delivering the solution (product, service, or result)
      • Transformation 👉Any process, tool, or method that the actors use to convert input to outputs (This could be executional, decision-making, or operational processes)
      • Worldwide view 👉 This aspect corresponds to high level policy and associated standards and regulations that they need to adhere and be compliant with. 
      • Owner 👉This member or group is responsible for collective decision-making 
      • Environment 👉The internal and external environment that facilitates all the above to work together (the people, process, product)
    • In practice, the order of events should be Worldwide View, Transformation, Customer, Actor, Owner, and Environment 
      • Worldwide view binds the reasons why projects or programs started (e.g.: regulation)
      • Transformation looks into the internal and external processes that support the projects and programs to deliver
      • Customer provides the requirements that the actors must evaluate to understand, fill the gaps, and prioritize (Backlog or scope)
      • Actors work together to deliver the output, capability, outcome and benefit for value realization
      • Owner approves the project for the team to continue their work 
      • Owner and actor are also responsible to create the environment conducive for delivery 
    • This model is more to ensure that everyone is on the same page in terms of the project scope and no shocks or surprises are present. It is more of a stakeholder perception management tool.
  9. I-C-ICE
    • This framework is large-to-larger projects mostly in the public services (IAP2 Spectrum, n.d.), such as building a city, highway or railway management, new supply chain route, airport and telecommunication network, etc. 
    • It stands for Inform-Consult-Involve-Collaborate-Empower and predominantly derives support from many of the previous techniques such as Power-Interest Grid, Salience Model, RACI, etc.
  10. Onion Diagram
    • Just like the layers of onion, (some of you may be familiar with the layers of onion used in the Agile approaches), this approach derives its approach from identifying the stakeholders or stakeholder groups closer to the delivery team (Alexander, 2004). 
    • Think of the core as the "Customer Operating System". The people closer to this core are the business analyst, product owner, project manager, developers, and testers. 
    • The group in the next outer layer are operational team members, customer support, help desk, users, and some of the extended business teams (marketing, for instance).
    • The next layer will be decision makers mostly internal to the company such as the sponsor and governance committee
    • The next layer could be internal or external influential experts, consultants, suppliers, vendors, or regulators 
    • The final layer could be market research team focusing on competition, users, market segments, etc.
    • While there are benefits to this approach, it also distances people and unless there is a good communication cadence to regularly collect voice of customer and voice of business feedback and ongoing market intelligence, there could be challenges. 
  11. Proximity Chart
    • This model is a revision of the onion diagram with some level of stakeholder engagement assessment matrix. 
    • It has emerged from data analysis techniques on how closely data points related together on the central tendency.
    • It sill uses the layered approach but brings the SEAM approaches like who opposes the project and who supports the project to evaluate strategies.
    • Stakeholder Map ideas can be brought here to draw influence directions. 
    • It still has the same challenge of distancing people and requires a frequent communication to ensure that stakeholders feel engaged and connected.
  12. Resistance Pyramid
    1. This approach emerged from the change management context on understanding how humans perceive and deal with change. The model was introduced by Nieder and Zimmerman (Galpin, 1996). Instead of using a layered concentric circle approach, this approach builds on a pyramid.
    2. The layers of the pyramid list people that are not knowing about the project, not able to deliver on the outcome, and not willing to support the initiative. 
    3. On either side of the pyramid, the reasons for their current state and the potential actions that can be taken are listed. 
    4. I have seen people that breakdown the reasons with root-cause-analysis and further extend by force-field-analysis. 
    5. While this is a good one in concept, some of the earlier techniques like Power-Interest grid and Stakeholder Engagement Assessment Matrix are simpler and more manageable!

So, after reviewing these frameworks, that have been present for a long period, which is good? There is no one-size-fits-all. The more we look at these techniques, the more we can see that there are a lot of similarities and differences. Depending upon the specific project, pick what matters and improvise! If we recommend one as the best, then, it is like saying agile or traditional approach is a good candidate for all projects. 

What are your thoughts? I am sure I may have missed a technique in a specific industry. Let me know your thoughts.


A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (2017). Project Management Institute, 2017. APA, 7th ed. Project Management Institute.

Alexander, I. F. (2004, June). A Better Fit-Characterising the Stakeholders. In CAiSE Workshops (2) (pp. 215-223).

Barth, H., Ulvenblad, P. O., & Ulvenblad, P. (2017). Towards a conceptual framework of sustainable business model innovation in the agri-food sector: A systematic literature review. Sustainability (Switzerland), 9(9), 1–15.

Bergvall-Kåreborn, B., Mirijamdotter, A. & Basden, A. (2004). Basic Principles of SSM Modeling: An Examination of CATWOE from a Soft Perspective. Systemic Practice and Action Research 17, 55–73.

Galpin, T (1996). The Human Side of Change, San Francisco, Jossey Bass.

IAP2 Spectrum (n.d).

Palan, H. (2020). The dangerous animals of product management and how to tame them. Customer Think.

Rajagopalan, S. (2014a). RACI: An important tool to manage project outcomes and stakeholder expectations.

Rajagopalan, S. (2014b). RACI: Errors and Implications in building the right one.

Rajagopalan, S. (2018). Organized Common Sense. Outskirts Press.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Gift of Teaching: Why it should matter to anyone?

"Why do you like teaching so much?" asked my son as I was wrapping a call with one of my students. It was not on a regular work day or during the evening that I teach. He has known me to teach at colleges and universities as well as through my own training organization (Agile Training Champions) that I founded with the only purpose of "Making a Difference." Yes, both my parents were teachers. So, I could say "Teaching runs in my blood!" To me, teaching is not for time-passing but building the society! 

Teaching, to me, is the way people create leaders! Teaching demonstrates one's love for the subject and builds character through that subject in students. In my humble opinion, if a student doesn't like a subject, it tells volumes about the teachers and their way of teaching! Why do people claim "Phobia for Math" in early grades in school?  Scientists call Math as the Language of the Universe and how are we promoting quest for knowledge in the younger minds? How are we creating the love for the subject if we sow the seeds of fear for a subject? Teachers who love teaching teach their children to love learning!  

I had a good friend's sibling in school fail a subject back in India. This was many years back. I took it upon myself to teach this subject to the student and get the student to register for the exam again and finally succeed. I may not be available for every star fish that is washed ashore, but I made a difference to that one person's life! When this person managed to contact me several years later (as we got separated due to my stay abroad), the expression of how I mattered is priceless. 

Furthermore, teaching is not about showing the expertise to students but being able to demonstrate our ability to learn from the students. It is a highest form of displaying modesty and humility! At a level that others see you as an expert, you demonstrate your vulnerability and willingness to learn from the students. In the movie, "Taare Zammen Par," the teacher takes an interest in a young student's way of expression and changes the perception of the school, the student's parents, and the life of the child by relating the autistic children! Good teachers do not categorize students as 'slow poke," as one of the teachers talked about my son. I wish the teacher who called Edison as unable to learn anything can know how wrong the teacher was about Edison. As Dale Carnegie says in his book, (paraphrased) "Even He does not judge us until after death; so, who are we to judge others?

Good teachers owe their students to own 'continuous learning' and 'learning at every moment!" My classes focus on movies and anecdotal thoughts from such movies on many topics. "The ideas get cemented in my mind," said a few students from people that hear learning by association is a daily event! Students learn better when they experience their teacher's love for the subject and care for their students! That's why I continue to study not only fill my own gaps in knowledge but also demonstrate my love for making a difference. And, trust me, students monitor our progress and get motivated "Fuel their fire for growth" is what teaching to me means! 

"Passion feeds knowledge and knowledge feeds passion!" No other profession other than teaching comes closer in this symbiotic relationship. Even thought I know the subject at the back of my hand, I prepare for changes in the market place, new events that are relevant, and the type of audience in the class. So, every class is a project and so requires just enough planning to deliver the message better. And, the students bring their rich experience and help you fill the gaps between sentences, words, and characters in your own subject! I am better in my concepts today because my students taught me!  

Good teachers enable their students to support their ongoing journey! They share their knowledge willingly and copiously through any and many forms as possible. In fact, to me, teaching is the best form of demonstrating servant leadership, situational leadership, and transformational leadership! In the movie, Hitchki, I remember a great saying about the teachers. 

"A normal teacher teaches, 
  a good teacher makes one understand, 
  a great teacher demonstrates how to apply the concepts, but 
  only some teachers inspire us to take a message forward"

If I can make a difference in one person's life by spreading through my life experience, teaching is the way I continue to "make a difference" by inspiring everyone that I have an opportunity to interface with.

To my parents, siblings, friends, family, all the teachers and the students that taught me and continue to teach me, thanks!

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Powerful Communication: Lessons learned from High School Essay Writing

As part of my projecting leaders of tomorrow (PLOT) initiative, I try to introduce the concepts of project management and agility to high-school students and sometimes non-project managers. One opportunity presented itself to me when a student approached regarding preparing to write a compelling essay for the scholarship. The student had some knowledge about the essay types such as argumentative, expository, narrative and descriptive styles but was still was having 'writer's block'. I viewed this problem analogous to how many professionals communicate leaving the stakeholders to wonder what is being asked of them! Any artifact, project status report or graphical widgets, similar to essays written in school should focus on what is the outcome desired from the report, graph, or essay delivered. 

Let us first differentiate the four essay types. The argumentative essay is using credible research to develop a factual or evidence supported opinion. For instance, "Did remote team environment exist before the COVID-19 pandemic?"  To some extent, this argumentative essay builds on an hypothesis or a thesis statement. Instead of asking a question, one can make a statement that "Remote team environment exist before the COVID-19 pandemic" and use research from credible sources to support or refute it. In statistical circles, we call this approach as the null hypothesis and alternative hypothesis where we use data to support the evidence. The difference in this argumentative essay is that we are not building statistical or empirical data analysis to support but to use insights and opinions using qualitative research. 

The expository essays come from a position of knowledge or sometimes to test the understanding of your subject. These essays are more of "an expert's take" approach. The goal here is not to evaluate whether you are using your analytical skills to support your thesis. Instead, the approach takes on bringing a delicately balanced views so that the knowledge to avoid any appearance of motivational or cognitive bias. For example, "The COVID-19 pandemic tested everyone's digital literacy to work remotely!" is a statement that you would like to test your understanding. While you may prove the plethora of tools that came up during the pandemic and how it facilitated people to maintain relationships, you can also discuss the challenges of computer literacy and security issues that made many people vulnerable to hacking. Again, this essay can leverage from both qualitative, quantitative, or a mixed research style. 

The narrative essays are building on a personal touch! This essay is more of an opinion piece! They could be emotional or factual depending upon the specific story. For instance, the "Heroes Journey" to story telling (Rajagopalan, 2020) is a narrative essay approach. One can write "Global Warming was reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic where people worked remotely!" Most of the movie-making is a story telling exercise that weave a personal message. I recall a technique (Skip Weisman, personal communication, Jun 13, 2018) from my coach. This approach here is to leverage curiosity by setting the characters in the circumstance, existence or development of conflict, definition of cure, appearance of change during the pursuit of cure, ability to callback or carryout the activities amid the challenges and finally come to the closure. 

The descriptive essay is becoming a creative artist in telling a part of the narrative essay. It frequently is making emotional connections! We all know Yoda and Dark Vader or Simba and Pumpaa. As soon as you read these character names, they appear in your mind! When you think of Spiderman, you think of his lifestyle in a busy New York downtown. You are not thinking of Simba in the downtown New York or Spiderman in Pride Lands in Africa!  Such an artist's rendition of the place the story took place or the object/person that had the challenges is brought in the form of powerful words. I recall one of the best opening statements from Jeffrey Archer's book, Kane and Abel, that reads, "She only stopped screaming when she died. It was then that he started to scream" describing how a mother gave up life during childbirth. 

So, how do these four essay types compare with project level communication (or for that matter communication in professional lives)? I have mentioned in my book on organized common sense that the communication falls under persuasive, informatory, or exploratory (PIE) communication. I call this the communication PIE. 
  1. The persuasive communication is required when you are recommending a decision (terminating a project, funding a program, etc.). These types of communication are therefore either argumentative or expository depending on the level of subject matter expertise you bring to the table. 
  2. The informative communication is more of a status quo balancing multiple elements (scope, schedule, cost, quality, risk, procurement, stakeholders, resources, change) and so is often an expository level of communication. 
  3. The exploratory communication is often taking some level of persona to try out an experiment and so I view them as narrative essays. 

The descriptive can be used in combination with the narrative essays for larger level vision and direction to motivate people! For instance, by integrating our processes around one application lifecycle management tool, we benefit from reducing the operating expenses by 30% increasing our likelihood of employees receiving annual bonus. Imagine what would that extra bonus in your hands can do! Fund your children education, make that dream vacation possible, etc. Now, you are painting a picture of what is to come and what people need to do to realize that reality.

What are your thoughts? Thoughts? 


Rajagopalan, S. (2020). Leaders are good story tellers.