Thursday, March 15, 2018

Let us Respect Nature, Please..

A Delhi-Manali-Leh-Kargil-Srinagar-Pathankot-Delhi Road Trip was one thing, a group of friends wanted to do and we set out the first time in 2010. We couldn’t go beyond Keylong since landslides blocked roads and returned back promising ourselves that we would come back in 2011.

For the 2011 trip, We  prepared in all possible ways. We worked out in the gym ( cardio and weights), were on diet, read as much as possible about the trip. and the reading included not just the positives of the trip ( trip of a lifetime, great sights, great photo ops, right to boast), but also about the risks involved i.e. the things that can go wrong ( from the vehicle) to our body ( food poisoning, high altitude sickness that can be life threatening, the symptoms, what to do in such situations - availability of medical help hospitals ) to speaking to people who spent their time in the defense services. 

Everything went as per plan till we got blocked on the way to Rohtang Pass and ended up staying overnight at Sarchu ( alt:4290 metres). Two of the three were already sick due to food poisoning and were really down. The next morning, drove to the nearest Army Hospital and were treated for low blood oxygen level. Fortunately for the team, once they were administered oxygen, their oxygen levels increased and also stabilized.

I couldn’t help recall this incident after reading about the tragedy of trekkers losing their lives in the forest fire.

Let me get this straight. I am not trying to blame anyone. But trying to ask some questions to ensure that we are more careful in the future.
  • How prepared was the group  in terms of physical fitness ?
  • What was their typical lifestyle ( active, semi-active or sedantary) ?
  • Were they aware of the risks involved in the trek ?
  • How many people trained in first aid or emergency rescue were there in the group ?
  • What was their ratio ? was it  1 trained for 10 people or 1 trained for 2 people?
  • What was the difficulty level of this trek ? (
  • Was it suitable for kids and women ?
  • Were they all properly dressed ( trekking shoes and gears)
  • Did the people carry RF communication devices and not depend on mobile phones ?
  • Was the risk of the forest fire known ? (News reports say that 30 fires were spotted in last six days)
  • If so, was the team apprised of the risk and briefed about what to do in case they came across a fire ?
  • Was the forest department aware of the fires and permit the trek?
  • Do people know that they need permission to trek in such places ?
  • Was there an entry fee for the trek ?
  • What was the entry fee ?  I read 200 per head. Was it a proper fee with a receipt or a bribe ? Please increase it a level where only people who are very serious about the trek will even think of it ( suggestion to forest department)
It sounds like lot of questions and we wouldn’t be discussing any of this but for the unfortunate event.  And we have to ask these questions because ‘When we lose, don’t lose the lesson’ is a dictum I believe in. And also, One’s quest to experience nature doesn't have to be so unpleasant and turn deadly.

My observation is that,of late, there seems to be a more romanticized view of nature and everything that involves nature. Be it farming or trekking in the mountains or forests, people get in with lot of enthusiasm and in-sufficient or superficial knowledge.

Now, don’t get me wrong. A trek in the forests or a hilly terrain is no stroll in the neighborhood park or a visit to the beach on a normal day .What happens nowadays is similar to how people respond to a bull run in a stock market.  

In the euphoria, everyone thinks of only the upside ( the Adrenalin rush , the photo ops , chance to boast on Social Media ). No one thinks of the Down side ( the dangers, the normal injuries that can end up life threatening or actual life threatening incidents , lack of know-how to respond).

One of the things good Project Management demands is that we think of all the things that can go wrong and ensure that we know how to respond when things go wrong to come out successful.
It boils down to one word. ‘Preparation’. I am reminded of the following conversation between Oshima and Kafka ( from the book ‘Kafka on the Shore’ by Haruki Murakami)
"I am sure you enjoyed living all alone with nature like that, but it's not easy to live there for a long time," Oshima says. 
"In theory it's not impossible to live like that, and of course there are people who do. But nature is actually unnatural, in a way. And relaxation can be threatening. It takes experience and preparation to really live with those contradictions. ..."
Nature demands Respect. Preparation is the only way to show respect to nature and when we go through many experiences and survive to talk about the tales, we also become wizened with experience. And when you are up against nature, over planning and over preparation is always on par( for more lessons, suggest reading ‘The Climb’ by Anatoly Bourkreev ).

May we please take our engagements with Nature (treks and expeditions) more seriously and be prepared enough ?

Why do we even get into this ? Is it the adrenaline rush that we want ? Then there are lot of other less riskier ways to get it in the cities.

  • Go for some sports or martial arts class.
  • Hit the Gym regularly. Regular exercise is a serious way to get your regular dose of adrenaline.
  • Teach. The satisfaction grows over time and is long lasting
  • Do Yoga/Learn Music/Learn a new skill/Art

If we really want to be amidst nature and enjoy what it has to offer, let us not take it for granted, but understand our responsibility and be prepared.

  • Know what you are signing up for
  • Be involved in the arrangements or ask the organizers the right questions
  • Get official permissions. (This is important because when the mess hits the fan, it is the government and only the government that has the capability to mobilize resources and help on a scale that matters).
  • Be physically fit
  • Read about the trip on the web or talk to battle scarred veterans
  • Be properly geared
  • Hydrate yourself
  • Know the terrain and the dangers associated that matter ( climatic conditions, wild animals, forest fires, flood and so on)
  • Have a fall back plan ( whom to communicate and how to in case of emergencies)
  • Have well qualified guides who understands the terrain.
  • Follow the rules and processes
  • Get your priorities right. There is a family and there are friends,  for whom your presence is more important in the longer run

In our Delhi-Manali-Leh-Delhi trip, while my team members’ oxygen levels improved and stabilized well enough, it was not the case with another person (a biker) we met at the hospital. He was advised to reach lower altitudes as soon as possible and fortunately for him, he was accompanied by  a pillion rider.

Such was the nature of the terrain and the vagaries of nature. We were physically and mentally prepared for the problems and knew that in the worst case may even have to abandon the trip, but probably got lucky the second time.

Having personally seen how fast a fun trip can go from pleasure to mortal danger, I demand the following, in light of this tragedy.
  • Will the government please step in and formalize steps to organize such treks and organizations that conduct such treks ?
  • Will the organizers become more responsible in communicating the complete picture about the trek ?
  • Will the participants understand what they are getting into and be more responsible ?
I know such a request takes the fun out of such treks. But it is no longer fun when you can lose lives. 

My heart goes out to all the people who lost their lives and who suffered severe burn injuries and all the more to the parents who lost their kids. I dont have the heart to watch the photos or videos. And i can’t even think of what the Parents must endure through for the rest of their lives, having lost grown up kids .

In this tragic loss of lives,  let us not lose the lesson, please.

P.S. I have documented our road trip and the lessons learnt here -

Thursday, March 1, 2018

13 points from Reading a Podcast :-) On the principles and pitfalls of agile development

Note: This makes for an excellent read. If you like the podcast, listen to it or if you are like me, read the transcript of the podcast here.

The following points stand out.

1. It is very difficult when a part of the organization is agile and rest of the organization continues in the normal way of functioning. This introduces a dissonance or an impedance mis-match ( to be more

2. Waterfall is not bad and it was very useful in a particular context “It’s not that waterfall is bad. Actually, waterfall is a perfectly fine way of doing things. There were good reasons why it emerged when the computer and mainframes and the cost of doing things were such that it required a lot of advanced planning, a lot of coordination, and a lot of rigidity to make sure that things were done in a way that dependencies were addressed properly up front.”

3. The need for Agile now, “The reality is, in today’s context, with technology being more flexible and cheaper, you have the ability to think very differently about how you bring technology to market.”

4. On organizations adopting agile principles “I do think one of the beautiful things about these principles is you need to think of them in a holistic way. You can’t just cherry pick a few of them”

5.On the first principle of Agile Adoption, “At the core, you need to be putting the customer first. You need to be clear on who the customer is, what problem you’re trying to solve, what matters to the customer, and prioritize. Always come back to who the customer is. In some cases, the customer can be the internal customer. But often, you need to make sure that it’s the external customer.In typical organizations, the distance between the customer and the people doing the coding is eight layers of translation. That can only lead to wrong prioritization, compromise, and, in the end, your likelihood of delighting the customer and doing something that’s “aha” is reduced. That’s principle number one and incredibly important.”

6. On the second principle of Agile Adoption, "The second principle that I would add is around how to focus on people interactions versus process. it’s about bringing the customer to the table. It’s part of the interaction of processes that takes away so much of the focus on just checking a box—to more of a focus on how to serve our customers and get to the right solutions for them."

7. On the third principle of Agile Adoption, “I think a third principle that is very important is welcoming change—so removing the barriers that if you change, [the idea that] if there’s failure, that something was wrong. Rather to turn it around and say, we’ve learned something. We’re going to integrate that learning into the next iteration.”

8. On team empowerment, “The fourth principle, I’d say, is to empower the team. The team knows more about the customers, it knows more about what it can do. If you make it autonomous, within some boundaries, you can have something special.  We’re going to let the people who are closest to the problem, closest to the customer, make the trade-off within the scope that we’ve agreed is the scope that they can operate in. That’s what makes it agile. That’s what makes it speedy. That’s what makes it flexible.”

9. On the whole business running in an agile manner, “Unless the whole business is operating in an agile manner, you’ve always got this layer of interaction between agile teams and, let’s say—I don’t want to pick on finance but—the finance function or control functions that may not be used to this way of operating. Is that something that organizations need to look out for?”

10. On bringing the rest of the organization along in the Agile Journey, “ bringing the rest of the organization along, because it’s not a one-time effort, it’s not a one-time transformation, it’s a journey. You have to bring every part of the organization along so that you’re speaking a common language and so that you’re shifting the way that you operate as a whole.”

11. The concept of Sunk Cost “I also see many organizations, where they’ll get the input that what they’re building is not right, and they continue to invest in it just because they’ve already invested x amount of dollars.”

12. The typical problem that we see in many organizations, cherry picking on agile principles to implement “... if you assign a product owner that’s not an empowered product owner—he or she still has to go to 50 different people to be able to make a decision on what experience to deliver to your customer. These are the things that, if you experiment with agile and start to cherry pick—and then on top of that you try to scale that approach, which is not truly agile—it’s worse than not doing agile at all, because you’re confusing the organization with “I think I’m agile,” but I’m still following the traditional way of working, and now we’re scaling this.”

13. On the three dimensions of a product owner
“A product owner is a critical role, and there is a debate in the industry around who plays the role, what is it. For me, I see it as a linchpin role, because it’s the core for these agile teams. There’s a couple of things to highlight.
One, product owners represent the customers. They understand their customers. They set the vision for their customers. They dream about their customers’ experience and the functionality that they want to deliver to them. They help to drive the team toward the vision that it has and encourage it as it goes on.
Second, product owners have what I call organizational capital. They’re able to influence the organization and bring it along on their vision of where they want to go. As they’re thinking about what they need to deliver in terms of functionality, they start to pull in the marketing team: How do you start to share the vision? The compliance team: How do we start to build the vision together? So, they start to rally the troops on the vision that they have for their customers.
The third one is, it is a leadership role. They help to guide the team and they are the leaders for how to make sure that we’re exciting our team members and that they’re rallying around the vision that they have. Because if you don’t put in the efforts that you need in terms of getting the right person for the role, it ends up being a waterfall team, because the person that you assign will just continue in the traditional way of thinking and guide the team in that direction."

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