“Focus On The Right Problem”: Diwesh Sahai, CTO, GoodWorker
- Sharmila Chand
- Jan 02, 2022
With a BTech graduate in aerospace engineering from IIT Kanpur, Diwesh Sahai has worked across segments, such as e-commerce, digital (e-books, video), fintech (payments bank), application development (TV, streaming device and mobile) and the like. As the chief technology officer (CTO) of GoodWorker – a Bengaluru-based company that connects blue-collar workers and potential employers in India with one another – Mr Sahai has been driving a team of committed professionals. He has over two decades of experience as a senior leader in software development in both startups and large organisations. In an enriching chat with Sharmila Chand, Mr Sahai explains the management principles that have brought him success.
Your five management mantras
● Enable and develop decision-making capabilities in everyone: Everyone owns a problem, everyone takes action, and no one feels frustrated. In a self-driven organisation, it is important that everyone is making effective decisions and taking actions to achieve the right impact and results. The biggest service a leader can do is to enable everyone to be effective in their decision-making and empower them.
● Don’t focus on pleasing everyone: Define success outcomes, and work for them instead of trying to meet everyone’s expectations. Your job as a leader is not to make everyone happy. Your job is to help everyone succeed.
● A problem well stated is half the problem solved: More often than not, we build a lot of context and solution in a problem statement. As a leader, your job is to make sure that the problem is well articulated, and everyone is on the same page. Once that is settled, everyone works towards finding the right solution.
● Always disconfirm your beliefs: We all have strong beliefs built over long, successful careers. These beliefs create blind spots. As a leader, it is important to be open and constantly listening, reviewing data and questioning yourself to make sure that we are making the best decisions to succeed.
● Build fast, fail fast, iterate fast – Be data-driven: It’s important to be nimble and take risks, and it’s ok to fail. If we haven’t failed, we haven’t tried enough.
A game that which helps your career
I love to play cricket. It’s for the pure love of the game and not necessarily for helping in work. It’s a team game, and like any team game, it helps build camaraderie with fellow team members. It also inculcates the behaviour to win. It’s important to maximise each other’s strengths rather than compete with each other.
Turning point in your career life
It was during my stint at Winphoria Networks. I was quite young then. I had a large team of around 27 people distributed across three geographies (Ireland, Argentina and India). I was the most experienced person in the team, and being an expert, I practically micro-managed each feature of the product we were developing. Once the product went into production, there were multiple issues. With every issue that was identified, I thought about why I couldn’t spot it coming, and what did I miss. This was a major inflection point of my career where I learnt that I am not superman but as human as anyone else. So, I shouldn’t be everywhere, and that it is important to create the right team structure and enable people in the organisation at every level to make decisions.
Secret of your success
● Building a people-centric approach to organisation and culture: Businesses pivot, technologies change, processes evolve, but the same set of people has to make this happen. If we don’t build a great team, we are not going anywhere.
● Regular introspection, learnings and actions as a feedback loop: I do frequent introspections and at times write my thoughts to bring clarity to the observations. Right observations lead to learnings which then have to be converted into concrete action items. This has always helped me grow in my ability to learn new things and find the right solutions.
● Identify simple yet powerful solutions to complex problems: Nature is full of examples of how simple yet powerful principles drive what looks to be a complex thing. I always strive towards finding that simplicity in every problem that appears complex. I don’t settle until that is achieved.
A person you admire
James Cumberbatch – a combination of brilliance with empathy. I had an opportunity to work with him during my stint at Amazon. I was inspired by his ability to enable multiple complex experiments and innovations to a very open-ended goal while still establishing himself as a trusted and popular leader across multiple teams and geographies.
Best advice that you got
Find ways to make it happen rather than finding reasons for why it won’t happen. (From Manoj Gupta, a former colleague at Amazon)
Your favourite book
Freakonomics: This book has helped me significantly in applying economics to every single behaviour and action. It has also helped me understand how data can be misleading if we are not making the right assumptions and outcomes. I would recommend everyone to read this book.
Your fitness regime
I walk briskly in the morning and evening to keep myself fit.
Your five business mantras
● Focus on the right problem: It’s not as simple as it sounds. Understanding the customer’s pain points along with gaps in the existing product and then focusing on solving the right problem is the first step towards any successful venture.
● Measure, monitor and iterate: If you are not measuring the key metrics which define product and business success, you are running blind. A common pitfall is when people only measure outcomes in terms of revenue. I call it measuring the lag metrics. Identify and build lead metrics that clearly define business success. Monitor metrics, build review mechanisms, take cues, and then take actions to iterate the product in order to improve customer experience.
● Customer is king: Very well-known statement, but how to interpret and measure it is evolving with time. It is important to carefully stitch in every piece of the product to make sure that the customer is put first. It is essential to implement this thinking across the organisation. Building a customer-first culture and measuring NPS is becoming fundamental to the success of every business.
● Observe (listen), learn and pivot: Carefully observe data, and listen to what it is revealing. Be open to learning along the journey and identifying gaps in hypothesis and assumptions. Be open to pivoting the business and product. Building an organisation which is nimble and agile forms an essential part of this strategy.
● Build processes and automation for opex (operational expense) reduction: Last, but not the least, you can’t bloat your cost of operations. Making sure that you are building the right process and automation to continuously reduce the operational cost should not just be a part of the strategy but also the focus.
Your message on management to youngsters
There is no shortcut to hard work when it comes to learning. Observe, listen and learn, and keep a growth mindset.