Monday, May 04, 2009

On Resolving Conflicts - 1.0

One of my annual goals as Senior Executive – Sales is to keep the product catalogue of the company web site update. How it became so is a story. Efforts for creating a micro site – a website within another website, began much earlier before the new financial year started, with the VP – Marketing Strategy also contributing to the cause. This micro site shall supposedly contain the product menu and catalogue (with info on what we have ready on the platter to offer clients within a quicker turnaround time). This catalogue is linked to a Goole interface in order to give users a sense of familiarity while they browse for solutions of their choice – I should commend my boss on this wonderful idea. So we got it approved by the top management, and sought assistance from the Corporate Communications team (who reports to the VP - MS), who are the stakeholders for all official efforts of advertising and brand development.
Corp. Comm. undertook the initial steps in identifying the right resources for web designing, approval flew down from the software division. The web designer happens to be a friend of mine. Since both of us have spent considerable time with the company, we had several opportunities to interact with each other and explore each other’s creative sides. So the efforts went on the right direction. So by the break of the New Year (I mean financial year), our micro site was on beta phase. So when the software team came up asking for a test drive, they were directed to us. We were asked to provide inputs on the same. Given that I was comparably new on my assignment and therefore relatively free to do creative pursuits, I chose to do the testing part – a decision I’d regret months later. I had this habit of documenting my thoughts, preferably in a structured manner so that it makes me easy to reproduce it at short notice. So when the Corp. Comm. representatives turned up unannounced, only I had a documented set of responses that were to be handed out. Since the markets were doing simply great, we had a list of great projects in the pipeline, and therefore naturally other account managers were busy with their clients. We almost didn’t anticipate the outbreak of another Great Depression to infect our business the following month.
It took a couple of weeks’ time for both teams to return with their comments. A few of my observations were looked upon as impractical and unnecessary. Others appeared to be fine with the developers. However my boss supported my views, and asked both stakeholders to do the needful. This initiated a Cold War-like situation between the teams. However I managed to coax my friend to look into the situation, and act upon the other observations, which he feels, can be implemented. He promised to look into the matter and get back to me with a tentative time-frame. Since the New Year had just only begun, the Company was in the Annual goal-setting process, and therefore any non-value added comments like mine were hushed down. Of course, for every marketing team, what matters is the size of the cake they have to win – how large is the target sum, what’s the increase in percentage, etc. Big questions. With the recession eating up our clients’ economies (we were spared till then, not knowing what was in store for us), it even seemed a little cruel to raise the bar halfway more. So here our story begins.
It’s natural, mind you, to look at every trivial business activity with caution when you’re bitten by the recession bug. So now that we were all (along with our clients from the respective geographies) on the same boat, the flow of dollars was turning low. It was becoming increasingly difficult to survive in office. My friend the developer didn’t return with his comments till then and I was forced to ask him what’s taking him so long. There was a lukewarm reply mentioning that the project was over for his team, and he has other important tasks to take care of. This has kicked up a row now. The situation has grown out of hand. A few mail exchanges were made but no action followed. Adding to my worries was the fact that one of my largest clients was declared bankrupt, and I had to hurry to retrieve the payment of the project which I considered my birthday gift from them (yes, I received the purchase order for the said project on my birthday). Given my friendly relation with the developer, my boss also felt if can set things straight. Anyway, the best way for my boss was to set this task assigned to me as part of my individual goals for the financial year.
So when the war was on a high rage, it was added to my annual goals that I need to oversee developments and see to it that the site was updated and running fine. Obviously with both the Corp. comm. team and the software team up against us on a non-cooperation movement, it was difficult for me to provide a comprehensive reply whenever this question of “And Manu, what’s the status of the website? Get it done sooner man” rose up. In such situations, what is important is that you need to initiate to get both parties to talk. That’s what I’ve learned from governments around the world – the way they all deal with insurgents. At least this will make both parties understand what the other has to say. Else you’ll get killed by what I call the Middleman’s Dilemma Syndrome. So we got to talk, and finally things changed. Thanks to my homework, I also found the origins of why the entire catalogue can’t be on display as my boss wants. I had all the necessary corrections applied to what we internally call Metadata. So here are my solutions to the problem:
  • Verify the Metadata with the Google interface. Since I have a good relation with the data librarian, it wasn’t that difficult to get the job done.
  • Update the database that runs behind the catalogue in the way the software team wants it. Though it’s nice to make suggestions, I prefer to put myself in his shoes and look at the task before forwarding a demand.
  • Initiate discussions with Corp. Comm. after you have made an agreement with the software team. That’s the best way to convince them that since the user and developer are both in agreement with the KRAs; the Corp. Comm. only needs to get the site up and running.
Finally we have the site up and running. Well, almost up and running.

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