Monday, September 8, 2008

Job satisfaction

People often talk about job satisfaction. There seems to be another job/position somewhere else in this world which is better than the one you are currently working with and if you manage to get hold onto that job, another job/position pops up and you find yourself in the very same situation. It seems like a never ending cycle searching for job satisfaction.

How to avoid this…. well one needs to consider that every job is satisfying provided you think like that. Every job has problems and probably there is no job in this world which is problem free. The problem category might vary but problems never vanish. So one needs to be optimistic about the way a person approaches his/her job.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) v3.0 - A brief introduction

ITIL v3.0 Introduction
  • A set of books that describes best practices for IT management
  • It provides body of knowledge useful for achieving ISO/IEC 20000
  • ITIL is developed by OGC (Office of Government Commerce), an independent Office of the Treasury reporting to the Chief Secretary, previously known as CCTA (Central Computer and Telecommunications Agency)
ITIL v3.0 Components
  • ITIL Core
  1. Service Strategy
  2. Service Design
  3. Service Transition
  4. Service Operation
  5. Continual Service Improvement
  • ITIL Complementary Guidance
1. ITIL v3.0 - Service Strategy
  • Focuses on the identification of market opportunities for which services could be developed in order to meet a requirement on the part of internal or external customers
  • The output is a strategy for the design, implementation, maintenance and continual improvement of the service as an organizational capability and a strategic asset
2. ITIL v3.0 - Service Design
  • Focuses on the activities that take place in order to develop the strategy into a design document which addresses all aspects of the proposed service, as well as the processes intended to support it
3. ITIL v3.0 - Service Transition
  • Focuses on the implementation of the output of the service design activities and the creation of a production service or modification of an existing service
  • There is an area of overlap between Service Transition and Service Operation
4. ITIL v3.0 - Service Operation
  • Focuses on the activities required to operate the services and maintain their functionality as defined in the Service Level Agreements with the customers
5. ITIL v3.0 - Continual Service Improvement
  • Focuses on the ability to deliver continual improvement to the quality of the services that the IT organization delivers to the business
ITIL v3.0 - Certification
  • ITIL Foundation Certification
  • ITIL Practitioner Certification
  • ITIL Service Manager Certification


Friday, June 27, 2008


1. My exam preparation was not continuous as I had to do the exam preparation with my job. So the time span for the preparation was from 5-7 months. Initially it was roughly one hour per day including gaps between days.

2. My initial plan was to learn different concepts presented in PMBOK so for some topics I was going into a bit of detail which later helped me in the exam preparation.

3. It is recommended that you should try to implement what PMBOK is saying at your workplace as it was quite easy for me to remember earned value/planned value and performance reporting as I was involved in preparing monthly progress reports for three projects at my work place.

4. If you have not done your training yet, make sure you schedule the training after going through the course once. As five days are quite hectic and one can easily lose way in the middle of the training. Remember training is important.

5. Regarding Input/T&T/Output; rather than learning by heart just try to understand the concept.

6. Sample questions are VERY important, make sure you understand and theme behind your incorrect answers. Free sample questions are available from different website (Google will help you in this).

7. Joining different groups on yahoo also help a lot as some the material there is quite helpful especially the lesson learned from those who have appeared in the exam.

8. Make sure you visit the exam site once before your exam. Even the exam center was in my city, it took me some time to find the site on my first visit.

9. Four hours is quite ample time for answering 200 questions. So don’t worry if some questions are taking a bit more time. I recommend you to take at least one break (I personally took two breaks).

10. I tried to answer almost all the questions in my first attempt. If I was 80% sure about the answer I still marked that answer for later review.

11. PRAYERS; the most influential ingredient for my exam success. I did not have the expected build-up to my exam. Two-Three days before the exam my grandfather was quite sick and I even though about rescheduling my exam. Last day before exam, the electricity went off for four hours. BUT ALLAH ALMIGHTY HELPED ME AND I MANAGED TO PASS THE EXAM.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Measuring Customer Response for Process Improvement

In a rapidly changing competitive environment, the importance of information gathering and analysis cannot be underestimated as famously quoted “You Cannot Manage That Which You Cannot Measure”.

The best source of information in any industry are the customers and the employees in the customer service department, especially those who are receiving customer complaints via UAN number or helpline email, can be the source of some very valuable information that is required for effective process management and improvement. The information received can uncover issues which may not even be on the executive agenda.

It is important to plan this initiative as carrying out this initiative on ad hoc basis can lead to undesirable outcomes including unexpected process variations, low staff morale, etc. It is also important to define broad categories or areas that you want to concentrate on. Mostly technical complaints are received via UAN number or emails so your need to take this factor into account.

For an ISP, typical technical categories will include:
  • Connection Setup Problem
  • Internet Speed Problem
  • Disconnection Problem

In addition to technical categories, the general categories can include:
  • Accessibility Problem
  • Support Staff Behavior Problem
Once the categories are defined, the next step is to collect data based on the categories defined above. The customer service representative can perform this data categorization. If a software solution is not available, a simple excel sheet can be used.

Once the data is categorized the next step is to do the data analysis. The most suitable technique might be to use Pareto chart to identify major problem areas as it is not feasible to resolve all the problems at the same time. There are software programs available that can draw a Pareto chart based on the available information (As a sample I have shown the extract from MINITAB).

Now at this point in time you will have an idea about the areas you need to focus on for improvements. It is important to realize that one should look at this information in totality (e.g. if you have 1,000,000 subscribers then receiving around 80 internet speed complaints is not a major issue as opposed to having 200 corporate customers out which 80 of them are complaining about the internet speed).

In case of corporate customers (which are an important source for maintaining cash flow), one needs to be proactive so a regular survey should be conducted to listen from those customer which, despite having problems, are not willing to tell them to their service providers.

By doing such activities, it will be much easier to justify the need for improvement projects as it directly relates to the main source of revenue i.e. the customers.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Freedom of Speech

The twofold policy of the West on the subject of “freedom of speech” is quite visible in their law making. One example is the holocaust (term generally used to describe the genocide of approximately six million European Jews during World War II) and its related legislation in the West.

It is quite surprising to know that the so called “freedom of speech” is quite restricted when it comes to holocaust. Only denying holocaust is explicitly or implicitly illegal in 13 countries: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Israel, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland. E.g. in Austria, you can be punished with imprisonment up to twenty years.

It is even more surprising to know that the word denial means denying the following major claims:

  1. The Nazis had no official policy or intention of exterminating Jews.
  2. Nazis did not use gas chambers to mass murder Jews.
  3. The figure of 5-6 million Jewish deaths is a gross exaggeration, and the actual number is an order of magnitude lower.
  4. Stories of the Holocaust were a myth initially created by the Allies of World War II to demonize Germans. Jews spread this myth as part of a grander plot intended to enable the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and now to garner continuing support for the state of Israel.
  5. Documentary evidence of the Holocaust, from photographs to the Diary of Anne Frank, is fabricated.
  6. Survivor testimonies are filled with errors and inconsistencies, and are thus unreliable.
  7. Nazi confessions of war crimes were extracted through torture.
  8. The Nazi treatment of Jews was no different from what the Allies did to their enemies in World War II.

Now if someone says any of the following, he/she can be jailed in many of the European countries:

  1. It was not an official policy of the Hitler to exterminate Jews.
  2. The figure of 5-6 million Jewish deaths is questionable.
  3. Holocaust is propaganda for the creation of a separate state of Israel.
  4. Some of the images of the holocaust are fabricated.
  5. The survivors of the holocaust are exaggerating the matter.
  6. And the most fascinating of them all is that if I only say that Hitler did this to everyone without specifically targeting Jews.

Now when the Muslims say that stop making fun of our beloved prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H) the west claims that it freedom of the speech. But in case of holocaust denial…. It’s highly illegal and there are legislations available in many of the European countries.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Key Performance Indicators for Job Description

Imagine you are being offered a new job with a lucrative salary and fringe benefits; when you ask for a job description, the human resource department provides you a single page stating KPIs along with their current values, target values and the time frame. Surprised??

In a rapidly changing business world, one should not be surprised to see such kind of an attitude from organizations striving towards business excellence. As process management and improvement is making more inroads in daily operations of organizations, the need to measure and improve processes is very tempting.

There are advantages for using this approach:

  • One can eliminate biasness as now everything is quantified and if you are doing well it is visible to everyone.

  • By using this approach one can provide a consistent interface to employees so incase of promotion, the human resource department can add one or more KPIs to the employee portfolio of KPIs.

  • Now days the process management and improvement is a buzzword so by having such a distinctive job descriptions you can use that to attract potential clients.

But this approach can also have potential drawbacks:

  • The cost could be the primary factor as measuring each and every aspect of your organization can be costly and time consuming.

  • The data collection can be at the center of conflict as promotions are now tied to the results from the data collection and analysis process.
  • “How much you love your company or how loyal you are to your company”… try quantifying this! Sometime it’s very hard to quantify everything.

So probably, a mixture of qualitative and quantitative criteria is the ideal formula for effective job descriptions.

Balance Scorecard for Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) Companies in Pakistan

Business Process Outsourcing in Pakistan

The phenomenon of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) is growing at a rapid pace. As the profit margins are squeezing and the competitive dynamics are changing rapidly in the developed countries, more and more companies are looking to outsource their business processes to countries like India and Pakistan.

According to Pakistan Software Export Board (PSEB):

Pakistan IT Industry exports are estimated at US$ 1.4billion while the industry size is estimated at US$ 2.8 billion. It is significant to note that Pakistan IT exports growth in each of the last few years has been more than 50%

The above statement is a clear indication that the business process outsourcing industry growing at a rapid pace. Initially, the primary outsourcing activity in Pakistan was software development (As the name “Pakistan Software Export Board” suggests itself) but now more and more companies are focusing their attentions to other areas like customer service, medical transcriptions, financial services and many more.

In order to sustain this growth of the BPO industry in Pakistan, we need to take a holistic approach towards BPO management. An approach which is linked with the vision and strategy of the company; an approach which not only concentrate on the financial perspective of the company (as most of the times the short term financial benefits are the driving force in company policy making decisions) but also concentrates on customer, internal business processes and employee perspectives; An approach which provides a rational ground for decision making.

The Balance Scorecard Approach

The balance scorecard provides the framework to make sure that you are measuring and improving the Critical to Quality (CTQ) aspects. It ensures that people and procedures within the organization are aligned with the both the short term and long term objectives of the company. By doing this, everyone in the organization is more aware of his/her responsibilities and contribution thus the motivation level is higher as compared to organizations where ad-hoc and short term decision making is part of the daily grind.

The balance scorecard concept was introduced by Robert S. Kaplan (Professor at Harvard Business School) along with David P. Norton in 1992. Since then the concept has gained a lot of popularity in the developed countries and more and more companies are implementing this as a mean to gain competitive advantage. This concept mainly focuses on the following four perspectives:

  • Financial
  • Customer
  • Internal Business Process
  • Learning and Growth

The financial perspective concentrates on shareholder wealth maximization after all that is the main reason for setting up a company. The customer perspective is concerned with the image of the company in heart and minds of its customers. The internal business process perspective is concerned with efficiency of the company’s internal business processes and the learning and growth perspective is concerned with continuously improving the intangible asset of the company (i.e. the employees) so that the company is always providing value for money to its customer and shareholders.

The above mentioned perspectives are generic and can be customized to the needs of the BPO organization but for now let’s assume the above mentioned perspectives.

Once you have outlined the perspectives, the next step is to identify leading and lagging indicator which will be used to measure these four perspectives. Leading indicators are those which provides an early indication while the lagging indicator are those which provides the information about the past performance e.g. increase in customer satisfaction index could mean rise in the company profitability. Here customer satisfaction index will act as a leading indicator for company profitability. Most of the financial measures (e.g. profit margin, sales growth) are lagging indicators as they report on past performance of the company.

For financial perspective, the typical leading and lagging measures for a typical BPO could be:
  • Return on capital (lagging measure)
  • Cash flow (lagging measure)
  • Customer payment window (leading measure); measuring the payment delay from the customer side. It can be very important when you are receiving a Lumpsum payment at the end of your project as delay in receiving payments can impact the cash flow of the company.
  • Risk rating of Pakistan (leading measure); different websites like, provides risk ratings (political, economic, etc...) for different countries. Any change (either positive or negative) can impact future business opportunities for the BPO companies in Pakistan.

For customer perspective, the leading and lagging measures could be:
  • Per service market share (lagging measure); one can use this to measure local as well international market share for each service category. By measuring both at local and international level it will give the company an idea about the nature and strength of competition in these two markets.
  • Per service customer satisfaction index (leading measure)
  • New customer acquisition rate (lagging measure)

For internal business process perspective, the leading and lagging measures could be:
  • Project turnaround time (lagging measure)
  • Number of complaints received from the customer (lagging measure)
  • Number of defects detected during review (leading measure); this will particularly be useful in service areas where the work done is reviewed internally before sending it for client review like software projects, financial outsourcing.
  • Service down time (leading measure for customer satisfaction index); e.g. call center operations

For learning and growth perspective, the leading and lagging measures could be:
  • Employee satisfaction index (lagging measure)
  • Number of employee training (leading measure)
  • Average number of complaints per employee (leading measure)
  • Average number of suggestions per employee (leading measure)

These are only selected set of measures as there can be many more which fits the particular needs of a BPO organization.

It is important to realize that a right order should be followed i.e. vision, mission, strategy and then performance measurement. Failing to follow the right order can result in poor post implementation performance of the balance scorecard initiative.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Quantity Improvements; the last resort for Software Development Projects

Many of us agree that IT projects are more error prone than any other project category. This is quite visible by the success rate for these projects. Among the IT projects, software development projects receive the lowest ranking as far as success rate is concerned.

Even if some software development projects do receive the “distinction” of being successful, they end up being a burden in terms of high maintenance staff salaries and excessive payments for changes/improvements. After two to three years, these so called successful software development projects end up being a part of your IT data backup graveyard.

Why there is such a case for software development projects even though most of the times they cost a lot less than construction and manufacturing projects. One basic difference between the two types of project categories is the success criteria.

In construction and manufacturing projects, you surely can quantify the success criteria of your project e.g. a manufacturing plant improvement that will increase the throughput of plant by so and so. But is it the case for software development projects?? Probably not; because in case of software development, both the client and the solution provider are at fault for not “quantifying” the success criteria of the software development project e.g. when developing a human resource system, the client is stressing that he wants to improve to human resource department efficiency and the solution provider is claiming that by having the state of the art technology the efficiency of the human resource department will be improved.

Now what does the term “improvement” means is not clear until you are in the post deployment phase of your software development project. At this stage the client will start saying “previously it took three days to process hundred applications and now it’s taking more than ten days to do the same” or “our payroll processing is taking three days whereas previously it took just one day”. Would it be nice if these objective statements were known and agreed in advance at the start of the project? Would solution provider and its team be more focused once they had this information at the start of the project?

So it is important that you quantify your software project’s success criteria to avoid being part of the long list of un-successful projects.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Project “EVIL” Wish List

Having a wish list in your project is a common phenomenon. Everybody wants more good things in the project with fewer resources and in a short span of time.

There is no clear cut difference between wish list and necessary changes. Generally wish list can be characterized as something which does not look harmful at the start and the project manager or his/her team thinks that they can accommodate the request without suffering any delay. On the other hand, Change requests means something that will surely affect your project. When you are working on projects where funds are not coming from your own organization’s pocket, then change request can be a very good source of income.

For any project, it’s up to the project manager that how he/she conceives the wish list. In many organizations (with very few exceptions) saying a “NO” to a stakeholder wish is like putting up your resignation. So people are always in an “Accepting Mode” i.e. any wish that comes from a stakeholder is welcome or in Urdu “sir-e-tasleem kham”.

What people don’t realize is that this attitude is adversely affecting your project. Many a time this attitude results when the project manager is working simultaneously on projects and operations (like handling a portion or complete human resource department) and he/she is unable to distinguish the meaning and consequences of wish list in these two different work scenarios.

In projects (as you have scope, cost, resource, quality and time constraints) wish lists tend to have a long term impact on the health of any given project and you don’t realize the impact until or after execution phase of the project and when you do realize the impact, its very hard to trace back to the exact wish list; at the end its bad project management on your part and good critical assessment on stakeholder part.

In operations you do have the flexibility as far as triple constraints are concerned and it’s comparatively easy to evaluate the impact in early stages.

So it is better to say one “NO” than to face one hundred embarrassments.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Developing an Enterprise Resource Planning system using Six Sigma

Six Sigma is characterized by DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyze, Improve and Control) approach. DMAIC refers to a data-driven quality strategy for improving processes. The steps defined by DMAIC can also serve as a guideline for developing an effective ERP system of an organization. As organizations are big in terms of their processes and sub-processes so it is important to realize that improvements will not come overnight and it require vision, and active top down leadership, to maximize their impact.

The process steps can be further elaborated as:

I) Define primary stakeholders, their Critical to Quality (CTQ) issues, and the core business processes and sub processes involved. It requires capturing the requirements and expectations of these stakeholders from an ERP system. Prioritizing activities is important as resource limitations might restrict the team to work on all the core business processes in parallel. It is also important to define the processes to be improved by mapping the process flow so that As Is scenario can be captured.

II) Measure the performance of the core business processes and sub processes involved. Here process priorities established in the Define phase must be observed. This phase requires developing a data collection plan for each individual process and sub process. We may have to collect data from different sources to determine types of defects. A good starting point would be to identify the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) for each process with respect to its primary stakeholders. Finally we can compare our findings with the primary stakeholder requirements and expectations to determine the shortfall.

III) Analyze the data collected and process map to determine root causes of defects and opportunities for improvement. By doing this we can Identify gaps between current performance and goal performance. Many a times we can identify more than one area for improvement so it is important to prioritize opportunities. Those opportunities which are not selected for improvement in the 1st phase can be selected at a later stage. During this phase we should also identify sources of variation.

IV) Improve the target processes and sub processes by designing and implementing creative solutions to fix and prevent problems. This can be achieved by adding a new module(s)/sub module(s) or changing existing module(s)/sub module(s) in the ERP system. At times there is no need to introduce technology as the desired results can be achieved by only altering the flow within a particular process or sub process. So it is important to get to the root cause of the problem and then identify ways to fix that problem.

V) Control the improvements to keep the processes and sub processes on the new course. It will also prevent the concerned staff reverting back to the "old way" of doing things. It requires the development, documentation and implementation of an ongoing monitoring plan. We also need to institutionalize the improvements through the modification of systems and structures (staffing, training, incentives).

In the end it is important to realize that our goal should be to achieve results not to implement any technology or software.