An amazing framework to solve business problems:

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There are two type of things I learned in Graduate school:

1. Useful

2. Not Useful! (useless)

This post is NOT about discussing useless learning’s! So let me share one of most useful things that I learned in my two years at a School of management: How to solve business problems? Sounds cliched but that was, I think, one of the most important skills I picked up there. In particular, I learned about Frameworks used to solve business problems, one of them was called “MECE” which is what I want to share with you in this post.

(Side-note: Most folks learn this at some strategy consulting firm like McKinsey but unlike them, I learned about it in school)

Before we begin, I want to share about why you should care and then I’ll talk about what is it.

Why MECE?

No matter which team you work for, you are solving problems. You wouldn’t have a job if you’re not doing that — so why not get better at it?

If you want to find a root cause of a business problem (& find the solution faster!) then you need to break it down…to break it down, you need to structure it. Now, they are many ways (or Frameworks) to structure a problem — MECE is one of the most effective frameworks out there. So lets learn about that:

(side-note: MECE framework may sound like a simple idea BUT it’s NOT easy to apply!)

What is MECE?

It’s an acronym and it stands for “Mutually Exclusive and Collectively Exhaustive” which means that when you break a problem into sub-items then they should be:

1. Not overlap with each other (mutually exclusive)

2.  If you add up all sub-items then it should represent all possible solutions (collectively exhaustive)

Let’s take an example:

Say that you are asked to analyze “why is Profitability declining?”

Here’s a non-MECE way:

  • Find Top 10% profitable products [does NOT pass the collectively exhaustive test]
  • Out of them find products that are have declining profits
  • Try to find reasons why those products would have declining profits

Here’s a MECE way:

Visual for MECE principle

  • Break it down to Revenue & Cost
  • let’s start with cost, let’s say it’s constant = revenue must be going down for declining profits
  • further break down revenue into 1) Revenue from all non-usa locations 2) USA locations (Note the use of MECE principle here)
  • let’s say that revenue for non-usa locations is increasing, then it must be USA locations that’s the problem! (Note how effectively are able to narrow down and find the root cause faster!)
  • Let’s further break down to product categories for USA locations…Continue breaking down the sub-items in a MECE way till you find the root cause

I hope that gives you a good overview of MECE principle.

Conclusion:

MECE is one of the few effective frameworks that you can use to solve a business problem. If you want to get better at structuring your ideas (to solve business problems), consider practicing MECE as there are ample resources available online that would help you master this!

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Five things I like about RescueTime:

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I like Data Analytics! I like it even more when Data analytics is used to extract insights that you can act upon! One such example in the space of time management/tracking would be a great app that I have using for the past six months now called – RescueTime; I see this app as a platform to carry out “data analytics” to increase my productivity. I called it a platform because it “collects” how I am spending time on my computer/web and whenever I want I can login to their portal/dashboard and analyze how I spent my time – And then I act upon the insights I get from their platform.  I’ve shared one example at the end of the article but before that – let’s learn more about RescueTime and how it can help YOU too; Quoting from their website:

RescueTime is a tool that allows you to easily understand and optimize how you and your team spends their time and attention. One of the most important things about RescueTime is that there is NO DATA ENTRY. You install a small application on the computers at your company and we magically track what software and which web sites are actively being used

Now. here are the Five things that I like about RescueTime. Note that I am an individual user using the Free version of RescueTime:

1. weekly summary email:

I like receiving weekly summary emails – It gives me the high level overview how I spent my week. Few things metrics I like: Total Time (broken down by categories), How productive I was (in %) – for e.g. it would tell me that I was 62% productive during the week, lists the top activity and my productivity breakdown.

2. “Productivity By Day”chart:

Nice Data Visualization! you can quickly see which day was the most productive day for you:

rescuetime productivity by day chart*Date would be replaced by real dates.

3. Time Spent by Category/Tags

A nice report on Time Spent by Categories is shown in the Dashboard. Every activity logged by RescueTime is automatically grouped into categories. Examples of few categories are: Software Development, Social networking, writing, Email, Entertainment. And this brings me to my  next point:

4. Customize how activities are “categorized”.

By default, RescueTime puts all our activities in categories but sometimes it doesn’t do it the way you want. So for instance when I open Excel – I want this activity to be categorized into “business” but it gets logged as “writing”. In such cases – you can change the category of an activity and next when the same activity is logged then it gets the latest category that you had specified.

Also RescueTime divides each activity logged into buckets of “very productive”, “productive”, “neutral”, “very distracting” – you can change the productivity category of an activity too. Note that this is used in #2 “Productivity by Day” chart

5. No manual data entry – it’s automated

It just works. Though it has an disadvantage that you can not control how it categorizes each activity while it is logging the activity and if you do spend time in reviewing what it did – then reports that you’ll see might be skewed. But when you find time, you’ll have to spare few minutes (only initially as a new user) to tune the categories and productivity tags as the way you want.  But once you have done it – it works well. No hassle – it runs in the background and does its work of logging each activity!

And lastly as promised, An Example of how I used the insights made available by RescueTime:

I decided to reduce the time that I spent on social networks by 50% after I saw that I use to spend about 350 minutes weekly! So now – I am saving at least about 2 hours each week! This is the report I created based on my past “summary emails” to show the Trend about Number of minutes per week that I spent on social networks:

social networking time spent paras doshi

That’s about it for this post! check out RescueTime if you want to save few hours of your time and increase your productivity! And if you already track your activities – how do you do it? Do you use RescueTime or similar app? Start a discussion in the comments section!

UPDATE 27 Nov 2012: I got one year of RescueTime Pro in return for posting my views about RescueTime. Thanks RescueTime!

Professional Development Resource: Pinal Dave’s Series on Developer Training

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Pinal Dave sir wrote a five part series on the topic of “Developer Training” and I believe it’s a nice professional development resource. So here are the Five parts along with my notes that I made when I was following the series:

Developer Training – Importance and Significance – Part 1

Learning does NOT stop when you get out of school

Hiring new employees is a big operating cost for a company

Well trained employees helps in running companies smoothly

Training helps in boosting employee’s morale

Developer Training – Employee Morals and Ethics – Part 2

Take notes during Training and SHARE!

POST-Training – report the learning to your Manager

Developer Training – Difficult Questions and Alternative Perspective – Part 3

Offer to train others who may be interested in your new-found knowledge

in life you have to go out and make your own way, you cannot always sit and wait for things to land in your lap.

Developer Training – Various Options for Developer Training – Part 4

People like sharing knowledge.Just ask (properly!)

Options: On the Job, In-person training, on-demand (online) training

Developer Training – A Conclusive Summary- Part 5

Keep Learning, Keep Sharing!

And other excellent blog posts on the same topic from the SQL Server Community:

Vinod Kumar sir on ” Training–a necessity or bonus

Nakul’s Blog: Developer Trainings-Importance, Benefits, Tips and follow-up on Pinal Dave’s series

Ritesh Shah: Training – useful or useless?

What are common mistakes that new or inexperienced managers make?

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This is one of the GEM i found on Quora. And what is Quora? Well, it’s a QA site. What makes it different? Well, for me it’s Quality of the content and the fact that who’s who of our small world are active on Quora. And people who have followed Quora knows that it tends to throw GEMS at you once in a while. yeah, and this question that “What are common mistakes that new or inexperienced managers make?” followed by a wonderful sequence of discussion is a perfect example to show why you should have an account on Quora. Anywho, Here is the link: http://www.quora.com/Management-Organizational-Leadership/What-are-common-mistakes-that-new-or-inexperienced-managers-make and the rest of the blog post is just me taking notes.

1. Human motivation is NOT tied to economic outcomes
2. Nothing can replace face-to-face interaction in motivation
3. Do not be slow in dealing with performance issues
4. Good managers put the blame on themselves and understand that any failing within the team is a failing of the leader.
5.Good managers attempt to redirect kudos and credit onto their team
6.play fair, open communication, admit to mistakes, praise in public, criticize in private, deflect credit to others, accept blame personally, be accountable, etc.
7.More authority is not associated with expertise, but rather accountability
8. Have enough guts and self-confidence in your own capabilities

Again the link is: http://www.quora.com/Management-Organizational-Leadership/What-are-common-mistakes-that-new-or-inexperienced-managers-make