Friday, September 26, 2014

Lessons for team work from observing kids soccer teams

It is one thing to watch adult sports like the world cup soccer; it is totally another thing to learn from observing the kids learn and play soccer. Having not played soccer myself, my eyes were wide open to observe and learn.

Over the past five years, I had the pleasure of watching my daughter participate in local youth soccer program. She started in her kinder garden days and has progressively developed her skills. I admire her passion and dedication; she also loves playing with her team a lot. Besides her team's work, I get to observe the girls from many teams who compete with my daughter's team on a weekly basis during the Fall season. Hats off to my daughter and her team for learning and growing their skills.

It is intriguing to observe that during the progression has followed these many steps:

  1. Each with her own soccer ball and goal post: Each kid started with her own soccer ball and a goal post to kick the ball into. It is a luxury when there is no defense against the kid playing solo. Still in the early days (during kindergarten) the kids miss a lot of the attempts to convert the kick into goals.
  2. Each with her own soccer ball, but shared goal post: Next the kids moved to a single shared goal post, but each one had their own soccer ball to play with. Here slowly the contention showed up for who can kick into the goal post at a given time. The kids adjusted to take turns to kick the ball using time division multiplexing :)
  3. Shared soccer ball and shared goal post: Third the kids got to play together and shared a single soccer ball and soccer post. Initially the kids monopolized the ball - meaning whichever kid got the soccer ball, will run with it all the way to the goal by herself. Sharing was an afterthought. Certainly the kids tire themselves out and the other kids from the same team may steal the ball to hit at the goal post. Progressively they learned to pass the ball to each other to get the goals. Individuality starts giving room for more Sharing.
  4. Shared soccer ball, shared goal post, and opposition: Even the team that had passes mastered in games are challenged when they face the defenses from opposing team. Chaos sets in the early days when the girls had tough time knowing to both share the ball and mark the opponent to avoid losing the possession of the ball. Slowly the team evolves ways to work through this problem. They learn standard techniques (square pass - pass the ball sideways to a partner) to make forward progress. And they learn / share tips on how to break through the defenses.

It is fascinating to observe how the individual progresses to be a productive team member. The same observations from soccer team are applicable for teamwork in many areas.

In many areas we bring ourselves as capable and competent individuals. Still it is important for us to learn what is the shared ball and what is the single goal post we are working towards. We need to know the opposition and challenges we face. We need to evolve shared understanding and working process for becoming the team that knows to pass the ball and work towards winning more goals. Some collection of people will become strong teams together provided they have mastered the art of teamwork before and nurture open and steady communication. Other collection of people may take long time if there is lack of clarity on the single goal or if they are still developing the skills for team work. Either way there is hope for folks to form strong teams, provided they set their mind (Attitude) for the same.

As mentioned in my prior post and written earlier in my Quora post, German team displayed fantastic team work and won spectacularly big at the world cup soccer event. Every weekend when I drive my daughter around for the soccer games I remind myself about the positive impact of the game on her growth to be a better team player. I also treasure the observations from watching  her soccer games and apply it at work as needed.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Motivation for excellent work; can also be applied for team work

Today I was speaking to a group of excellent engineers in my group. I have immense respect for their many years of professional software development - architecture, design, execution, and results. I am delighted to have this opportunity to work with them. Interestingly enough each had a healthy desire to gain more mastery and depth in their area. There is slowly an interest in collaboration and how to do the same. I am excited about the possibilities ahead for the team.

I was reminded of this animated video presenting a summary of ideas from Daniel Pink's Drive book. Daniel Pink does a fantastic job of explaining the motivation for what drives us to be excellent. For long time I had been a fan of the purpose being essential for work to be done. Purpose, often derived from Vision, provides the focal point for us to drive and achieve results. And everyone desires to gain more independence (Pink calls it the autonomy) and more depth (Pink calls it mastery). I believe the same three motivations can be used for gaining more collaboration results in the work groups.

In a collaborative setting:
  • Purpose - strengthen team delivery by working together.
  • Mastery - we gain more depth by sharing, caring, and working together.
  • Autonomy - besides operating individually, as a team the organization can gain next levels of autonomy as well. So the dependability on the team goes up over time. And such teams achieve repeat success.
A great recent example of team work is the recently concluded FIFA Worldcup Soccer semi-final match between Brazil and Germany. As written earlier in my Quora post, German team displayed fantastic team work and won spectacularly big. If we go back and watch past game plays from Germany there are many repeat examples of team work.


Saturday, May 17, 2014

A manifesto worth reading ... from pre-election India 2014

Today we heard about the election results in Indian Elections of 2014. It has been 67 years since India became independent. At no other time there has been such an emergence of the call for change. There can be intense need for change and decades long preparation for change. After a 30-year gap there has been a decisive victory for a single party. Now it is time for the change to begin. Change is a slow and steady process. There is a promise for transformed India to emerge.

It was encouraging to read the BJP manifesto. In particular I liked the starting statement
"To build modern India: the best foundation is our own culture; the best tool our own hands; and the best material our own aspirations." There is a lot more in this 52 page document. Read it at


Thursday, May 15, 2014

Is there a 4-sided magic star?

In the last week I recalled one of the problems I solved nearly 20+ years back about 6-sided stars wherein I can fill numbers 1..12 such that each side sums to a same constant. That was during the time I was practicing the use of ProLog (aka Programming Logic) and the solution involved dynamic programming with recursion.

I retraced and built a solution generator for 6-sided stars this week using C# this time. More on that later. Then I started playing with solution generators for other sided stars. I was looking at the 4-sided star. Here is how the 4-sided star looks like:
There are 8 vertices A..H as indicated. there are 4 sides as indicated by the colored lines. Each line touches 4-vertices. Now can we fill the numbers 1..8 such that the sum on each line is the same constant? Short answer is: NO.

And here is a proof.

 Given numbers 1..8, we want to have the numbers filled out such that the following conditions are met
 1: A+B+C+D=V
 2: E+C+F+G=V
 3: D+F+H+A=V
 4: G+H+B+E=V
 let us sum up the equations 1&3 which produces following:
 5:A+B+C+D+D+F+H+A=2A+2 D+B+C+F+H=2V
 6:2A+2D=2V −(BCFH)

Similarly summing up the equations of 2&4 produces following:
 8:2E+2G=2V −(BCFH)

Putting 6 & 8 together we have
 9:2A+2D=2 E+2G

Now take #1 and substitute using #10
And using #2 we find that
 We need
Using the above steps 5-13, we will also find that we need

Oops! That is a hard one. We cannot have the same number be filled in both places.
Since either #13 or #14 is possible, we do not have a valid solution for filling in the 4-sided star to ensure numbers add up to same value on 4-sides.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Purpose, Funding and Relevance when considering new projects or startups

Today I was reading this 10 questions to ask an interviewer to checkpoint my own hiring of candidates. Often I talk to candidates about purpose of my projects and how the project may be relevant for a candidate's experience. In some of the startup projects I had done within my BIG company, I had to think about the elevator steps to climb to ship the v1. In the context the funding in terms of number of heads and how the product ships to customers are important. However for a startup the funding is a more important area. I applied the same lens of purpose, funding, and relevance to the 10 questions from Mashable. And here is the list to consider. Mashable does a nice way of collecting the information from many folks in startup to provide more depth. Thanks Mashable!


Get to know the why

What is one thing that must be done?

What is the problem you are trying to solve?

What are your founders' goals?



Get to know the feasibility

How funded are you? What is your runway?

When is your next financing round?

What is your exit strategy?

What is the sales strategy?



Get to know the fit

How does your product apply to my role?

What is the focus for the next three months?

What is the culture and environment like?

What can I learn? What contribution can I make?

Engage the heart to inspire action

Yesterday I was chatting with a colleague of mine about our new project. We both quickly agreed on the why the project is important and what a difference we can make by delivering on this new project. We also immediately noted that there is some deep disbelief in the organization of 200+ people if we can and will deliver on this project. There are many factors that drive the disbelief: clarity, commitment, collaboration required, meaning, etc. We knew that there is a great opportunity next week to pitch the project to the team at large. And felt that it is important to use that opportunity very well to engage the team.

As we discussed further, we felt it is important to engage the hearts of the team members and not just mind. Often folks come looking for logical answers to satisfy the mind. That is just the first or the second layer. It is the heart that is the inner core that drives our emotional engagement that often drives unconscious behaviors. So it is important for leaders to strike a strong accord with the hearts of others to inspire action.

We both recalled watching Simon Sinek's Ted talk How Great Leaders Inspire Action. Simon says that inspired leaders communicate from the inside out sharing the 1) Why, 2) How, and 3) What, or what Simon calls the 'Golden Circle'. Simon takes a examples from individuals and organizations to illustrate his golden circle concept. For example, Apple used to say "we make computers" which is a 'what' statement. And their 'how' was "we make beautiful computers". However the core driver for this durable mission over many years has been the 'why' which is "Think Different. We challenge the status quo. We make different computers.". And indeed that 'why' has been a solid reason for Apple's transformation in the past 15+ years shifting from the erstwhile "Apple Computers" to "Apple Inc" producing blockbuster products on a repeat cadence. Simon's other examples include the story about Wright Brothers inventive success and Martin Luther King's long marches to more freedom.

It is fascinating to understand the context and how various individuals approach engagement. I strongly believe that we need passion, clarity in purpose, and persistent drive to create fantastic products. I also strongly believe that it is the same passion and purpose that can also engage people to collaborate and hence produce fantastic products. I had seen this work in my teams when I had repeatedly attempted to solidify the mission, create 6-8 word missions for my teams and continuously engage the hearts and minds of my team.

Coming to the story from yesterday. My colleague and I later ventured into our project leader's office and chatted with him more. We were delighted to know that he had conviction, belief and passion for our new problem. We were delighted that he wants to get us all engaged deeply. We shared our inputs about the people situation and indicated that we are glad to help in shaping the speech next week to engage the team at large. Next week will be a blast!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

CloudBox can improve flight safety with cloud analytics

Over the past two weeks there has been intense search for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 (#MH370). Every plane is equipped with the black box that often yields clue about what happened inside the flight. Usually after an accident or crash, the experts retrieve this black box and look for clues on what may have gone wrong. Ever since I learnt about this black box stuff, I had been in awe. However with this recent MH370 loss and long search for it, I wonder why are we not using real-time cloud (service) analytics to keep track of planes in flight?

There are likely several challenges with uplinking flight data and doing timely analytics. Over the past decades the cloud services industry has developed amazing computing, data, and communication infrastructure that can be used to solve problems. Let us assume that each plan can be equipped with a cloud box that can capture and feed diagnostics data and appropriate pilot + officer conversation data from the planes in flight to cloud analytics services. Let us look at the data processing capacity required. For now I will ignore the costs for cloud box and associated services. In the end, any cost can be ascribed to increased safety, reduced insurance rates, and worst case become a premium for flight charges across the board.

According to various Internet posts (one example here), there are about 100,000 flights per day.

Assume each diagnostics + conversational sample collected is compressed to 1MB per uplink.

Assume that each sample is uploaded to at least 3 satellites to ensure redundancy at 30-second intervals.

(And perhaps we may need adaptive algorithms to detect change in course, which can trigger faster uplinks at one sample every second.)

At 30-second samples, there are 2880 to be accurate, resulting in about 10 GB of compressed data per day per plane.

For 100K flights, that is about a peta-byte of data coming in per day.



Provided we have good distribution of satellites and good processing capabilities, there will be sufficient computing and bandwidth to handle such traffic. The data is very suitable for parallel processing which can be done through a variety of mechanisms. It is achievable, cost and fitting economics aside. On the ground existing and new receiver stations can process such data to provide feeds to the control towers and authorities to take action.

 Perhaps the cloud box is already in action for non-civil purposes. If not, new installations will come up in the coming years. Technology can help us tame problems.

 In the future skies, we can expect air travel to be more safer.