Monday, 30 November 2015

Recipe for Success

Planning for evening snacks is a Herculean task. 

No. Don't you laugh. 

One who has done it or is doing it will fully empathize with me. 

My daughter has her own demands. My husband has his own tastes and preferences and I have my own set of  likes and dislikes.  

Apart from  dishes of ones own choice, there are a few common factors for the finger food and nibbles. 

One - it should be light so that you do not feel too full during dinner. 

Two - It should be healthy

Three - it should be rustled up in a jiffy 

I have tried using a roster plan where I write down what all I will prepare for the 7 days in a week. But after a while it becomes a tad too boring. Another demerit is that then the joy of cooking is lost and it becomes a very mechanical task. Also, the  innovation aspect takes a back foot.

I find cooking very relaxing. After a stressful work day, when I go into the kitchen and cook something delightful, it soothes my senses.

But, again, as I mentioned, it is a very difficult task. 

Let me give you an example. 

Suppose, I want to prepare sprout salad . So , I sequence my actions . Tiny chopped onions, garlic, a little bit of ginger, fresh coriander leaves and a few chili pieces. I saute these ingredients and put the sprouts in it , sprinkle salt and roasted spices on it.  

A few drops of lemon juice on top and ahh.... heaven ... ! 

Fresh, healthy and easy .... !

Yes, the execution is easy but just a moment ..... 

Had I not planned a day in advance that I have to soak the brown gram and the moong beans (green gram) and had I not strategized that this recipe will fulfill the needs of everybody in the family, I would not have been successful. 

In the same way, at work, planning and strategy are two most important  things that we have to do for being successful at any task.  

If we have to create a software application, we have to ask :

What is the purpose of the application ?
What do the users want
What are the common factors which is important to all the stakeholders?
What are the critical success factors ?

The answers to the above questions will help us create the strategy

Then we have to plan. 

What should be the milestones ?
What will be the sequence of the tasks ?
Who will do it ?
How will it be done ? What will be the design ?
Who and how will it be tested to check if all the requirements are met ?

And so on ....

Once these are done, then coding is the easiest part And we enjoy the work since everything works as per the plan ! 

Easy and fun ...just like rustling up the the sprout salad !

In my long years of experience, I find the organizations teams lacking in planning and strategizing. And even if they do, they do not spend the requisite amount of time and effort on these. 

We quickly want to start the implementation . 

The result ?

Delay in delivery, expectation mismatch of the stakeholders and lots of time , effort and money spent on rework. 

Just like serving poor quality evening snacks !

Cheers !

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Tips for creating outstanding Meeting Notes

I  must confess that in certain matters I am very conventional. 

I still prefer my good old notebook over a laptop for writing meeting notes.  

Nowadays the trend is to carry laptops or tablets and sometimes even a recorder (if permitted) for meetings.  

A few days back, I read a very interesting article on what you miss when you take notes on your laptop

The article was mainly for classroom lectures where one  group of students were asked to take notes on their laptop and another group in their notebooks.  Afterwards , there was a test on the lecture where the questions were a mix of  factual-recall based as well as conceptual-application questions.  

The test marks varied widely for the two groups. 

It was found out that the group which took long hand notes scored significantly better in the conceptual questions as well as factual ones.  

The group which took notes using laptops had long transcription like notes which was almost "verbatim" of whatever the lecturer spoke.  They failed to get the essence of the lecture. The electronic note takers had the tendency to write more and mindlessly transcribing the content. This led to "impaired learning". 

This made me thinking. 

Does this apply to taking meeting notes as well ? 

Hmm... not exactly but maybe partly. Let me explain. 

In one of my previous organization, just like instant coffee, we produced "Instant MOM (Minutes of the Meeting)" !  That was really a productivity enhancer, since the MOM was mailed to all the participants as well as other intended people.  If it was a customer meeting,  we gave them hard copies of the MOM as well. And boy ! They were impressed ! 

For this , we had a scribe who apart from being knowledgeable about the meeting agenda , had good typing speed as well. Mostly the scribe wrote verbatim and within a few minutes of the meeting conclusion, it was reviewed by another participant who checked mainly on the essence and the concepts , if missed out by the scribe . 

Well, this works well if the scribe is very well trained and experienced .  

If not, then it is best to carry on with traditional notebook , because apart from the spoken words, what is more important, specially for crucial client meetings - where negotiation or business deals are decided, are the body language, the pitch and tone of the voice,  the questions being asked and to whom it is directed to and all such non verbal and implicit things which should be observed during the meeting. 

A few other tips : 

  • Record your meeting summaries in a different color or draw a box around them so that you can easily find them months later.
  • Finish your notes by summarizing anything important that happened and put this summary at the end of your notes. For some meetings, the summary will be  very short.
  •  Engage your eyes and ears, and jot down the to-dos, decisions, and information that needs to be captured. When you type in your notes later, that’s when you organize. 
  • Group action items together, decisions together, and reference information together. Now you can easily refer to the meeting’s key outcomes.
  • You can buy special pens and paper that record your notes as an image, import them into your computer, and recognize your handwriting so you can search your notes.
Cheers !

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Jab we Met ... 69-76 Batch , Sainik School Tilaiya

This blog post has been written by Suchitto Kumar Das for his friend Ajit , who could not attend the Alumni Meet of the Sainik School Tilaiya, 69 - 76 batch. 

The venue of the meet was at their school : Sainik School Tilaiya, Jharkhand. Many of the class mates met after 39 years . 

5th Nov 2015
My dear Ajit,

 This is for you.

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I am extremely poor while describing emotions and other such non tangibles. So my narrative will probably be too factual and therefore dry for your tastes, nevertheless I felt that we owe it to you to give a detailed blow by blow account of the two days we spent in SST.

When my wife and I arrived in the school at about 8pm on the 31st, Ramnath , Sanjay 478, Vijay 535, Singhasan, Jaishankar, Sunil Singh (with their wives) Anil, Shivanand, YN, , Salil and Pramod were already there. On arrival we registered with the hostel supdt. And were given a kit containing 2 T shirts, a tie and the momento. People with their wives were given a room each in the guest houses spread out in the campus. The forced bachelors stayed in one of the dormitories We then gathered in a hall adjoining the tennis court/ Basketball court which used to be in front of  Mr. Farooqui’s house behind the Principals residence in our time. I remember Col. Satsangi and his wife singing Waqt ne kiya kya hasin sitam there once during an open air function with senior students.

There was lot of hugging and back slapping with long lost classmates over drinks and snacks. After some time, the principal, registrar and the headmaster also joined us.  Ramnath then took the mike and invited us to speak. Some of us and our wives spoke. Led by Ramnath, we waited  for the Ranchi party to arrive. Meanwhile the Principal gave a longish speech while making a pitch for acquiring a water filtration plant for the students partly with our contribution.

Meanwhile, people from Ranchi, Niranjan, Prabhas, Rangnath, Ramesh, Vyomkesh, Virendra Bhagat, Ashok Sahu and others arrived at about 11PM. The speeches and drinks continued till midnight.

 The dinner was called at 12 O clock at night. We had food in the Junior’s dining hall. The staff was nice enough not only to keep aside food for us but they even warmed it at that late hour. There was high drama after dinner. It was drizzling and none of us except Ramnath and YN was familiar with the general layout of the school which has changed completely from the days we were there. Group of forced bachelors had moved to the hostel where they were supposed to stay. Ladies had finished their food a little earlier and they were waiting in another wing. Somebody was not able to locate his wife and in desperation he ran around all over the campus in the rain. Somebody managed to misplace his car keys with his luggage locked inside the boot and another one was simply unable to locate the room he had been allotted. The confusion added to the fun we were already having. It also reminded me to find my bearings with respect to the old layout of the school as soon as possible. I will write about the changes in the physical infrastructure of the school later.

Things settled down only around 2.30 am in the morning when everybody was able to locate his/her spouse, car, driver, luggage et al. Meanwhile, the bachelors in the hostel had a good time chatting and pulling each other’s legs till 3 in the morning.

 Inspite of the late night, almost everybody was up early the next morning. We went for breakfast and waited for Shyam Mohan Murari, Sanjay Jha, Ravi Kishore, Shyam Kishore, Mukund and Arvind 490 to join us, which they did by about 10. All of us changed into the maroon T shirt arranged by Ravi Kishore. Apart from the emotional dividend, in terms of bonding the T shirt was very useful in identifying the batchmates from a distance throughout the day.

All of us then moved to Capt. Manoj Auditorium (named after our 500), where boys from classes XI and XII had gathered. After a very inspiring round of oath taking and a prayer song, began the speeches compeered by Ramnath. Almost all of us spoke for a minute or two each. All of us were obviously emotionally charged to have a get together after such a long gap. Some spoke very well, some fumbled a little and some like me mumbled incoherently. But everybody was very upbeat about the future of the school and its students. What struck me most about our batchmates is that almost everybody was proud of the achievements of his children. This is no mean achievement and many of us did attribute this to the values imbibed by us in school and our success in passing them on to our progenies. Meanwhile, Philip landed up in the auditorium straight from Ahmedabad via Ranchi. Suddenly, he appeared on the podium in his suit and tie. Many of us took some time to recognize him till he started speaking and the penny dropped. He, of course changed into the T shirt in no time and quickly immersed himself in the landscape of the bon homie.

 The principal and the headmaster also spoke. The headmaster, a strapping young Squadron Ldr.,  was particularly expansive about the giant strides the school has made in the academic sphere. He said that in 2015, there were 20 students who had secured more than 90% in CBSE exam and apart from making it to NDA, a large number of students had also made past the IIT JEE Mains. It was vacation time, but Class XI and XII students had stayed back for special classes and the headmaster said that he wanted to raise the academic standards so high that no Tilaiyan would need to go to Kota for IIT coaching. If even a part of it is true, it would be good for the students because I have always felt that in our times emphasis on academics was relatively less probably because of the overwhelming importance of NDA. I have always maintained that those among  us who did not go to NDA were probably not fully prepared either for life outside the school or for alternative careers.

Two of the ladies, Mrs. Murari and my wife Ananya also spoke on the occasion. Mrs. Murari recounted her visit to school immediately after her wedding. She said that the fact that Shyam Mohan took her to school instead of to one of the usual honeymoon locations showed his feelings and respect for the school. She also reminisced that the reception she received from the people in school befitted the one reserved for a new bride in one’s family. Ananya said that in the early days of our marriage she found it a little strange that I would mostly talk about my school and not about my college days, but then she understood that I was much more attached to my school than to my college even though the latter was much better known and more prestigious. I remember that even though I had lot more independence in College and life was more interesting in Delhi than it could possibly have been in Tilaiya, I yearned for my school days till much after I left school. In fact, I continued to live my days in school through my dreams almost all through my stay in college. Ananya also said that she was grateful to the school for having given her a husband who is respectful towards women and otherwise a good human being. This open praise by my wife made me vulnerable to a lot of good natured leg pulling later by my dear friends. 

We left the Auditorium (Assembly Hall for us) at 1245 and went to the staff room for snacks. The entire administrative block, the class rooms and the other adjoining buildings look quite impressive. They have been constructed in the land between the erstwhile administrative gate and the road to the dam, opposite the lock factory if you remember. The lobby of the administrative block has huge boards containing the names and school numbers of all those who have made it to NDA since 1963. There were some inaccuracies like Uday Shankar’s name was missing and Pramod’s school number was wrong. Nonetheless it is a commendable effort to remember and honour those who fulfilled the school’s stated mission. Principal promised to rectify all inaccuracies as soon as they are brought to his attention.

Led by Ramnath, we then went in the school bus to meet Mr. M Sharma, our maths teacher. He has started a residential school for small children on a piece of land located on the other side of the road from Urwan More to Dam opposite the Dhobi Ghat Corner of SST. He is 89 and though a bit frail physically looked  fairly agile mentally. All of us including all the ladies touched his feet and took his blessings. We presented him with a shawl.

We came back for lunch to school. We had lunch and then some of us went looking for the old landmarks. We entered the old campus near the hillock behind the dining hall which you were enquiring about. We made our way through the road between the MI Room and the Isolation ward and turned right towards U Kumar’s and HSPd’s house. New MI Room has come up in the house of U. Kumar. The old houses  are still there and we could identify M/S RC Sharma, RD Singh, Moinuddin, MN Jha’s house. The main passage to the old Dining Hall adjoining HS Pd’s house is almost nonexistent with some construction and some vegetation blocking it completely. Similarly, near Mr. RD Singh’s house, passage from the road to the back of Magadh house through its lawns was also blocked. Same with the passage to Maurya. In fact, we had to walk all the way to the gate and skirt Vikram House from the back. Vikram House lies completely abandoned with doors and windows barred and its dilapidated insides partially visible from outside. We entered Vaishali house from a door which has been created on the wall abutting the road outside. This building has been converted partially into a cafeteria and I am told is run by Moti’s family. Kitchen of the cafeteria is where the bathrooms used to be.

The passage between Magadh and Vaishali has been widened. Magadh, Mithila, Nalanda and Maurya have been converted into what somebody from school referred to as the holding area  for class VI. It seems the menace of ragging has afflicted our school also. In the main hostel building,  large posters advising students against ragging have been put up by the administration. Each of these houses has about 25-30 beds. The tall wooden lockers which used to be fixed on one wall have been replaced by steel cupboards/lockers. Beds and mattresses looked much better than what we slept on. Toilets for all the four houses have been shifted outside to a common area. After a tour of the old hostels and the roads, the unanimous opinion was all roads and buildings looked much smaller now than what we remembered them to be from 1976.

We then went to the Dam in the school bus. Some of us and their wives went on  boats in the dam waters for about half an hour. You must have seen the pictures. One thought that occurred to some of us is that we don’t remember doing any boating in the dam during our school days.

Some of us also went up the hill to the DVC Circuit House on the top. It is still the same. No additional structures seem to have been constructed in the last 50 years.

We came back to the school and went for tea and snacks to the area near the basket ball court and the handball court. Play grounds are in front of this area. A new squash court and a gym has come up where we had the swimming pool. Play grounds have been provided with cemented seating arrangements like in a stadium. A permanent shed with seating arrangement has been made where the teachers and students used to sit while watching cricket and athletics. Football goalposts have been placed perpendicular to the direction they were placed in our time. The football ground at the lower level at the far end still exists in the same form as it used to. Headmaster’s house is at the same place. The road that we used to travel between our houses/classrooms to the playgrounds is still there but is closed to the students because the old classrooms have been converted to staff quarters.

Almost all new important buildings like the boys’hostel, dining hall, class rooms, auditorium and the administrative block have come up beyond the boundaries of the old school. These buildings have been constructed on the land between the old boundary of the school and the road to the Dam. Somebody must have acquired that land for the school in the subsequent years. Now there is a single building which houses the entire hostel complex and is connected to the dining halls. Modern multistoried flats have been constructed for teachers near the hillock you were looking for. The road along the school boundary from the hostel gate to the gate near the office has now become the main thoroughfare inside the school. I could not see the old assembly hall, staff room and the library or the boxing ring and the ground surrounding it. Many of these buildings seemed inaccessible to us. The old access routes may have changed to such an extent that we could not reach them. We could only see the back of the science block and the physics and chemistry lecture theatres.

In the map Red is NOW and Black is as it used to be in 1969-76

We gathered at the tennis court again in the evening at 7.30. The hostel superintendent proposed a game of Antakshari between the ladies and the gents. From our side, Niranjan was the star of the show, ever ready with the appropriate song, so much so that the referee banned him temporarily so that others could also get a chance. After the Antakshari, Shivanand, Madan Mohan and my wife and I sang a few songs. The grand finale to the cultural evening was, of course, the spirited performance by Sanjay jha which got many of us on the dance floor. He sang Dumadam mast qalander with gusto.

Since many of us were preparing to leave, dinner was called at 9.30. We had very good food at the tennis court. 

People then started leaving with smile on their faces which scarcely hid the tears in their eyes and the pain in their hearts at having to part again.

This, then is a chronological log of our activities during the two most wonderful days of our lives.

You will appreciate that the entire narrative is a first person account written from my perspective. It may not be totally accurate as the time was too short to absorb everything that was on offer. Others may have more to add to this or may even correct me if I am wrong. Hope you enjoyed reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.