My Reflections on Parental Leave

Two weeks ago I returned to work after spending the last 12 weeks on parental leave. Since 2005, this was the longest period of time I had spent without being in school or at work, so I decided to reflect on the experience to see what I learnt during this unique period of my life.
My takeaways from my time spent on parental leave fall into three main buckets:
1. Gratitude
I feel immensely grateful for the opportunity to work at Microsoft, which has a very generous family leave policy. Giving me full pay for 12 weeks spent taking care of my family – in a country with no mandated family leave whatsoever – is quite spectacular. I really applaud our leadership team for deciding to adopt this policy.
In addition to Microsoft’s generous family leave policy, I’m also grateful for my awesome team mates who held the fort while I was away, and made my return back to work pretty seamless. I think the way in which we support each other when one of us needs time off work says a lot about the health of our work environment.
2. Admiration
During my time off¬† I developed a deep admiration for full time care givers. Before parental leave, I asked myself what I was going to do with all the “extra time”. During my time off, I found myself wishing for more hours in my day! ūüôā¬† I also realized that a lot of the skills needed to care for my daughter were pretty similar to the ones I needed in my day job: planning, figuring out the root cause of an issue (yelling in this case :)), and finding a way to automate or eliminate repetitive tasks. In the end, I learnt that diapers, bottles, and whatever else is needed to take care of a child or elder parent are both time consuming and intellectually demanding. My hat goes off to those who do this full time.
3. Hope
In the past, especially in the culture where I grew up, men did not stay home to take care of their babies or parents. I’m excited to see a gradual change from that mindset, but the reality is that most dads are still unable to take parental leave. We still lack a critical mass of employers and governments willing to support us, and everyone’s personal circumstances is unique. However, for those who can take parental leave, my hope is that you go ahead and do it for three main reasons. First, the returns to your family is quite substantial. The arrival of a child is a huge change for any relationship, but if properly managed, that change can result in a much better relationship; that has definitely been the case for me. Second, if Anne-Marie Slaughter is right, then goals such as investing in the human capital of the next generation (by caring for children), or affirming our common humanity (by caring for older parents) are too important to be left to only 50% of the human population (women). Finally, quoting a dear friend and mentor:¬†“only when men begin to consistently take advantage of parental leave policies at work will we see more parity and support evolve overall for talent in the workforce who also have goals of caring for their family through their time and presence”.¬†


3 Books I Read in 2017: Worth Their Weight in Gold

I decided to take a page from my buddy Rohan Rajiv’s playbook, and reflect on the books I read this year that really resonated with me. They are:

1. Inspired: How To Create Products Customers Love by Marty Cagan: This book is about nine years old, but it still totally nails the contemporary issues that product managers (PMs) face. What should be the nature of the relationship between product management and marketing teams? What about product management and engineering? How can PMs really understand customers, assess new opportunities, or recruit development partners? It’s all addressed in this book from a very practical perspective. There’s a new edition out that came out this month which I’m definitely looking forward to reading.

2. Daring Greatly: How The Courage To Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown:¬†Since I watched her insanely popular TED video, I’ve become a huge fan of Brene Brown and her work around vulnerability. This books dives into how to use vulnerability in key aspects of our daily lives, just like the title says :). A key learning for me was that having the courage to be vulnerable is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of strength. Also, a popular but counterproductive way for us to deal with our shame is to look for and judge people doing worse than us in that area of our lives (parenting is a great example). Finally, when we take the time to reflect on the reasons why we feel shame, we usually realize that things aren’t as bad as we think. Great book!

3. Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland and JJ Sutherland: Most product teams today build their products using some variation of scrum, which makes this book quite relevant as  it addresses how to get product development right using scrum. The book contains lots of good war stories about the scrum-adoption journey of very different organizations (I really liked the FBI Sentinel story), but the key insight for me was that great product teams are autonomous, cross-functional, empowered and goal-oriented.

That’s it! Cheers to a New Year, and to continuous learning!

Make “Disagree and Commit” Work for You

The ‘Disagree and commit’ principle seems to have been created by Scott McNealy at Sun Microsystems, and adopted by other leading tech companies such as Intel. However, it was Amazon that brought the principle mainstream by making it one of its 14 leadership principles. The core message of disagree and commit is simple: conflict within a team is highly beneficial during the early stages of decision making as it helps the team to arrive at a better solution. However, conflict that persists after a decision has been made is quite harmful and prevents the team from executing effectively.¬†In cases where¬†you disagree with your team’s decision, you should still commit to helping your team execute flawlessly.

 Challenges with Disagree and Commit

The disagree and commit principle makes sense and can really help teams remain fast and nimble. However, adopting this principle is not easy. Two challenges I encounter as I try to disagree and commit are:
1. Disagreeing with Powerful People:¬†I still find it difficult to disagree with more senior or influential team members even when I know doing so might help us get to a better solution. If this challenge resonates with you, check out Amy Gallo’s HBR article on how to disagree with powerful people. It’s pretty good.
2. Committing while I am¬†Still Unconvinced:¬†I personally value clarity and logic, so I find it really difficult to commit to something that doesn’t yet make sense to me. In an ideal situation, I’d like to wallow in the debate a little more so I can become convinced, but in cases where there’s no time,¬†I realize I have to commit but that’s really hard for me.

Make Disagree and Commit Work for You

I did a little bit of research and arrived on five steps for improving my ability to disagree and commit. They are:

Step 1 – Ask for Permission To Disagree:¬†This is quite useful in instances where you need to disagree with someone more powerful than you. According to Amy Gallo, a simple statement such as “I have some concerns with that idea and I’d like to lay out my reasoning. Is that okay?” gives the person a chance to become open to your idea and also helps to make you calm enough to engage in a difficult conversation.

Step 2 – Make Them Feel Heard:¬†Paraphrase the original idea as a way to make the person you are disagreeing with feel heard. Another benefit of doing this is that it helps ensure that everyone is talking about the same things. You’d be surprised how often people find themselves talking about different topics within the same conversation.

Step 3 – Share your Thoughts in the Form of a Question: These questions should be about aspects of the original idea that you disagree with, or alternative ideas that you have. An example of a right way to do this is “Have you thought about this risk? or that alternative?”. An example of a wrong way to do this is “Can’t you see how shallow your idea is?”.

Step 4 РAsk for More Time To Research Alternatives: Sometimes, we are quick to assume that important decisions must be made immediately, but this is not always the case. If you disagree with the current direction of an important decision, ask for more time to come up with something better.

Step 5 – Take a Leap of Faith:¬†This is where the rubber hits the road. If after steps 1 – 4, your team is still taking a decision that you’re opposed to, you need to take a leap of faith and commit. Some things to think about that may help this process are:
1. You aren’t always right, and this might be one of the instances where you are wrong.
2. You can give your team members the benefit of doubt because you believe they are smart, competent people working together for the good of the team. If you don’t believe this then you should find a new team. ¬†ūüôā
3. The more you disagree and commit to other people’s ideas, the more likely they are to disagree and commit to your own whacky ideas in the future.

Any other ideas on how to effectively disagree and commit?


How Jeff Bezos Decides When to Give Up on an Idea

Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of, who usually doesn’t give a lot of interviews, gave one at this year’s CodeConference. The whole interview can be found here, and if you can find 80 minutes to see it, I highly recommend it.

The part of Bezos’ interview that stood out for me the most was when he talked about how he decides when to give up on idea. You can view that specific part of the interview by clicking on this link. Paraphrasing loosely, he said:
The most important things we’ve ever done have always seemed dumb to industry experts at the beginning.¬†You can’t listen to people in the beginning when they say it won’t work, but you have to be stubborn on the vision, and flexible on the details.¬†Now at some point, you may have to give up on the vision. How do you know when that is? I think it is when the last high judgement champion folds his or her cards.

I learned two things from Bezos’ insight which I believe I can apply in my personal and professional life:

  1. I need to intentionally schedule time to evaluate my goals. Just like in the world of business, a time may come when I may need to give up on some of my existing goals in order to move on to new things. The only way to arrive at that decision is by stepping back and evaluating things. Now it’s important to mention that one doesn’t evaluate too frequently, as that may become a distraction in and off itself. Instead,¬†evaluations should be adequately spaced to enable the proper exploration of goals and opportunities.
  2. I need to have high judgement champions in my life; people interested in my growth and development whom I respect and admire, and whose judgement I trust. When things because unclear to me, or when I’m trying to decide if I should persevere or give up on a significant life goal, I can lean on these people for insight and advice. Some people also refer to this as having a personal board of directors.

Any other thoughts or ideas on how to decide when to persevere and when to quit?



How Organizations Fail to Think

I recently came across a TED video by Margaret Heffernan, an international business leader and writer. In her speech, Margaret shared an insight which I felt was pretty radical: most organizations don’t think.

If like me, you work at an organization that requires you to do a decent amount of thinking on a daily basis, you might be wondering what this woman is talking about. According to Margaret, a critical component of organizational thinking is constructive conflict, and most of us do our very best to avoid conflict at work. The reasons for conflict avoidance are many, but some of the top reasons include:

  1. Conflicts can be messy and personal.
  2.  Conflicts are highly unpredictable, and it may be impossible to effectively manage the conflict once it has begun.
  3. People who start conflicts at work are usually labelled as not being a team player, or a whistle blower, and no one likes these kinds of people.

Despite the risks associated with engaging in conflict at work, the fact that the great tragedies of organizations and humanity happened in the open, and succeeded because people failed to speak up against the status quo, challenges us all to go beyond our comfort zones, and engage in the constructive conflict needed to develop creative solutions to our world’s problems.

So how do we do this? Margaret’s talk provided me with three good tips:

  1. Resist the neuro-biological urge to only associate with people who are like you. Instead, develop the patience and trust needed to engage with people with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests.
  2. Realize that speaking up in disagreement is not an end in itself, but is only the beginning of the path to a creative solution.
  3. When you have a question or concern about your organization’s product, service, or business process, it is very likely that others secretly share the same concern. The only way to find out is to speak up.

Any other ideas on how to effectively manage organizational conflict?



On Work-Life Balance, and Setting Down Glass Balls…

glass balls 2
A few days ago, I heard a work-life balance tip from Peggy Johnson, Microsoft’s executive vice president of business development, that resonated strongly with me. My loosely paraphrased version of the tip goes like this:

When we think about the tension between performing well on the job, and catering to the relationships and commitments we have outside of work, it can sometimes feel like we’re juggling a bunch of glass balls. From maintaining a healthy lifestyle to taking care of a sick parent, there’s all these things that we feel we really need to take care of as screwing them up could have potentially devastating consequences.

While it is important to identify the glass balls in our lives, it is also important to realize that we are not slaves to our priorities. Life always happens, and when it does, it’s totally fine to set down some of these glass balls so we can pick them up later. Failure to do so will keep us in a perpetual state of stress, which may lead to us dropping – and shattering – a few glass balls.

What does this idea look like in real life? When I put in long hours on a high profile project, and am invisible to friends and family for a few weeks, that’s okay! When I take off during crunch time at work in order to attend a friend’s wedding on the other side of the globe, that’s okay too! Our work-life balance will constantly change as we move through different phases of life. The challenge is to ensure that our balance goals are created not by our friends, family members, colleagues or the media. Rather, what work-life balance means to us at every phase of our lives, should be decided by us.

Peggy suggested that we set a glass ball on our work desk as a way to keep this idea fresh. I’m yet to get mine… ūüôā


Nurturing BSchool Connections

Joining Kellogg grew my network exponentially, and enabled me to build relationships with and learn a lot from really smart and admirable people. Fast forward to life after school though, and then comes the challenge of maintaining and nurturing these really valuable business school relationships.

The typical post-MBA job is pretty challenging, and forces MBA grads to spend their weekdays struggling to stay on top of things, and weekends recovering from the struggles of the previous week, while planning for new struggles ahead. With this tightly packed and mostly overflowing schedule, how can we find the time to nurture our existing relationships, not to mention build new ones?

I’m currently struggling through this challenge, and have been chatting with a lot of friends about it. While I still haven’t found a silver bullet, I’ve stumbled on some pretty good ideas:

1. Intentionally Plan Your Connections: This tip comes from Keith Ferrazzi, the networking guru who wrote the bestseller titled Never Eat Alone. Keith talks about creating a relationship action plan, as a way to stay on top of your relationships. His approach is pretty structured (which is not surprising as he’s an ex-consultant), and involves categorizing your network into 3 segments, and committing to an interaction frequency for each segment. Keith’s approach didn’t work very well for me, as categorizing my hundreds of friends was too cumbersome. Instead, I decided to identify the top 10 – 15 people that I really wanted to stay in touch with, and then tried to make plans for that small set of people. These plans included activities such as coffee or brunch meetups, and phone calls over the weekend, or during lunch time at work. The most important part of this tip is the PLANNING. Schedule a specific time and put it on your calendar like you would a business meeting because this stuff is actually more important in the long run.

2. Turn Facebook Time into Connecting Time:¬†No one plans Facebook time into their day, but somehow most of us get to check Facebook an average of 14 times in a day. How does this happen? More importantly, what if we could turn that time into networking time? We all have ‘gifts of time’ during the day; examples include commute time, waiting in line for coffee, or waiting for people to show up for a meeting. In times like these, as I find myself reaching for the Facebook icon on my phone, I stop and ask myself: who can I ping right now to let them know I’m thinking about them? I try to hit at least 3 messages a week which is a super small goal, but I think this is beneficial in two ways. First, social media is already a widely accepted additive (although not a substitute) to our face to face interactions. Second, these low cost drops of pings on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media sites easily become an ocean of thoughtfulness and connection.

3. Just Do It!:¬†This last tip seems to be in contrast with the first, but they actually work very well together. After making a networking plan, it’s really important to not stay welded to it. Don’t worry if certain people are slipping through the cracks and not being reached out to by you. Just keep reaching out and staying as connected as you can with those that are top of mind for you. The interesting part of this approach is that it helps you power through your inertia, and get started really quickly.

Any other good ideas on how to nurture business and personal connections?