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Frames Of Reference - Why They Are Important !


Udayakumar Nalinasekaren
Dec 22, 2010

Case StudyLet us first see a case study from my personal experience.

It is worthwhile noting here that India climbed to fame as an IT powerhouse with Y2K as the first stepping stone. It was mid 1990's - long before the Y2K bug started nagging the best of brains of the world. A bunch of individuals from India went to the United States on a specific mission. They went to a large enterprise as the seed team to bring outsourced software engineering project work back to the Indian shores. We were to execute and deliver it from offshore. The vision to deliver work from offshore came from the top executives of the companies involved. However, execution was left to the functional management layer.

The Indian team consisted of very accomplished set of individuals. All of them had a strong background in computer science and had significant relevant experience in delivering products to the Indian market. Yet, the initial conversations we were able to strike with the US folks were only about snake charmers, rope tricks, faqirs and elephants on the streets in India. People refused to talk product engineering with us. As any manager in the computer industry would typically manage a set of new-hires, we were promptly sent back to our seats with a bunch of boring manuals and guides.

India was not known for anything outside mythical stories about magic carpets, and all other stuff we talked about earlier. That was the frame of reference our counterparts had in carefully choosing topics for conversation with us. People were very friendly, polite and thoroughly professional though. However, very assertively we were told to RTFM. The message was clear.

If we had to breakthrough this virtual steel wall, we had to find a way to have a different set of relevant conversations. Time was running out. Fuse was getting shorter each passing day and the day when our US friends would declare us unfit for doing product engineering work to their expectation was not far away. We had to widen the window through which our hosts were seeing us. We took a bold step. We walked around that enterprise and spoke with folks other than the engineering function. We spoke with customer advocacy and other business functions of the same enterprise. We asked a lot of questions about what were their customer's pain points which necessitated the product we were supposed to deliver. The quality of our questions made them talk to us. Some of them were more than willing to help in order to get help. With the understanding that was gathered, we prepared a presentation that captured the requirements of the product that we were supposed to deliver from offshore. We called the engineering folks for a review. They came with a sarcastic smile on their face and went back from that meeting dumbstruck. The rest is history. That same enterprise has thousands of Indians delivering work for them from Indian shores today.

Try and understand the color of the glass through which people are looking at you. If that color is inappropriate, don't feel helpless. Simply telling people to change the color of their glass that suits you does not work in many cases. Like us, everyone is strongly opinionated and they do have a right to their opinion. Perceptions are realities - not the other way around. Arguments are rarely productive. A breakthrough can be acheived only by actions that unveil something that truly challenges the unfair frame of reference being used on us.


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