He is known for his passion, integrity, and leadership. During the inaugural address, former president of India, Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, brought all these elements to the fore, infusing a sense of zeal in the audience of over 1,000 project managers. The drive of this 80-year-old man, diminutive in appearance, was unmistakable as he roused the audience throughout his 45-minute speech with calls for nationbuilding and character-building.
Dr. Kalam set out to define the characteristics that make up a leader with illustrations of great leaders he had worked with during his career as a space scientist. “A leader must have a vision, a passion to transform the vision into a mission, be able to handle failures, have the courage to take decisions and do not allow a problem to defeat him or her, possess nobility, take transparent actions, and work with integrity,” he said. He then asked the audience to take an oath with him to “work with integrity and succeed with integrity.”
Recalling his tenure at the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Dr. Kalam said, “I was the mission director during the launch of Satellite Launch Vehicle (SLV-3). The project was unsuccessful at the second stage of the launch. Mr. Satish Dhawan, who was the chairman of ISRO, took the responsibility of the failure on him. But after the success of the Rohini satellite launch, he pushed me into the limelight. That is a true leader, who takes all the blame and shares the credit with his team,” he recalled.
He exhorted practitioners to look toward the future with new ideas. “What worked yesterday, will not work today. Yesterday natural resources defined power; today knowledge is power. Yesterday leaders commanded and controlled; today leaders empower and coach. Yesterday shareholders came first; today customers come first. Yesterday employees took order; today teams make decision. Yesterday value was extra; today value is everything,” he said.
Mr. Sam Pitroda, the man credited with launching the telecom revolution in India in the 1980s, is an inventor, entrepreneur, and policy maker, who now serves as the adviser to the prime minister of India on public information infrastructure and innovation. As a part of the Government of India’s technology think tank, he advises the government on designing and implementing complex, nationwide projects. The packed conference hall on the third day of the conference, when Mr. Pitroda spoke through a video link from New Delhi, showed the interest that practitioners have in understanding how government projects are managed.
Mr. Pitroda used a couple of key projects to illustrate the complexities involved in mega government projects. “The National Knowledge Network is a multi-gigabit pan-India network that will connect universities and colleges to a high speed network to enhance research and collaboration. We have an optical fiber network of millions of kilometer but it is under-utilized. We need to collaborate with groups of providers of infrastructure services, applications and tools, and content. It involves thousands of people. How do we manage it, monitor time and costs, bring stakeholders together, or measure success? We do not have the right project management expertise or tools to manage such projects well,” Mr. Pitroda said.
The other project involves connecting 250,000 panchayats (village councils) for better governance and delivery of services. “It needs additional network, connectivity, applications, and training. Considering that we are a country of 1.2 billion people, the complexity grows multiple-fold. Such complex projects have not been tried anywhere else in the world. But they are critical for nation-building and we are still figuring out how to manage them,” he commented. He called on the project management community to come forward to help the government with the right techniques and tools for the successful execution of such projects.
It was the last session at the conference, and going by the packed conference hall, it was clear that delegate interest had not waned. After all, it was an interactive session with Mr. N.R. Narayana Murthy, chairman emeritus, Infosys. The interest in Infosys stems not just from the company’s success as a business but also from the values that its co-founders preached and practiced at work and beyond. And now was an opportunity for project managers to interact with Mr. Murthy, the man who was its CEO for 21 years.
Drawing from his experience of working with people from different cultures, Mr. Murthy said there is a significant influence of culture in managing large projects. Partly, the “less than glorious” history of large projects in our country is due to this cultural factor. “We are not a disciplined nation; it is visible in the way people drive on the road. We have an oral culture and do not believe in documenting. We are reticent about losing face. We don’t tell people if they have not done the job well. We are comfortable with vagueness; we don’t use data much. We equate hierarchy with the licence to break norm. We will not succeed to bring our capabilities to bear unless we change these aspects of our culture,” said Mr. Murthy.
In the interactive session that followed, Mr. Murthy responded to questions with examples from his life, quotes from philosophers and writers, and lessons from history. To a question on what he rates as most important for India today—entrepreneurs, leaders, or project managers—he said, “To remove poverty, we need to create jobs. For that we need entrepreneurs. But to be a successful entrepreneur, you need to be a leader. And you need to have project management qualities to run a successful enterprise.”
Dr. Chandrasekhar Sripada
With over three decades of managerial and leadership experience across sectors, Dr. Chandrasekhar Sripada, vice president, human resources, IBM India, has firsthand knowledge of what it takes to achieve lasting success in a corporation. In his presentation, “Reinventing the Modern Corporation,” Dr. Sripada shed light on the “built to last” practices at IBM that can be applicable to any other organization.
“Long-term success is the product of managing for the long-term,” said Dr. Sripada, “if you think long-term, you will manage for the long-term and survive long-term.” He broke this large idea down to how tackling each project with the long-term angle in mind creates a paradigm for success. “The task of managing a project is timebound, but the results should be timeless,” he added. He went on to warn against the lure of short-term gratification in project management: “A problem with today’s project managers is the inability to negotiate for the appropriate time. Take your time; get away from the pressure of ‘short-term,’ IBM views itself as a lasting institution because of its desire for tomorrow’s benefit.”
Another powerful building block for long-lasting success is adaptability. Under a “built to sell” umbrella, companies should be ready to tailor their capabilities to the changing times without losing their unique selling points. “Adapting to change in a global economy, adapting to technological change, and retaining an organization’s essence and culture are three key lessons. It’s possible to change without changing the basics,” he advised practitioners.
On innovativeness, he said, “Don’t just respond. Create. Research gives rise to change and investing in research is a long-term gain.”
India is marching ahead with strong economic growth, but several key social growth indicators have not changed much. Social inequities prevail both in rural areas and among the urban poor. Cloud computing has the potential to become a catalyst in nationbuilding and help in bridging some of the gaps. Mr. Niranjan Maka, managing site director, VMware India made a strong case for adopting the cloud as a platform to bring positive change and inclusive growth.
“The Internet democratized content; the cloud democratized access. The promise of the cloud is enormous for a country like ours.
We can use this platform to improve people’s access for financial services, education, and healthcare. We have the technology but to make full use of the opportunities, we need to focus on its management,” said Mr. Maka. India today has 61 million Internet users, with a fast-growing base in rural areas where access to basic facilities has otherwise been poor. With the adoption of the cloud, the efficiency of service delivery can be improved.
“We need better transparency, governance, and reporting capabilities in the services that are delivered. We need robust programs that leverage technology to build, deploy, and maintain services, and be able to accommodate scale and flexibility. Cloud-based technology is just right for India as it enables all of the above requirements,” said Mr. Maka.
However for a provider of cloud-based services, the biggest challenge is to understand the market requirements. Mr. Maka stressed on the need for project managers in this space to continuously learn and innovate.
Nations are built when projects are made, but who builds projects? Human beings deliver projects, not any books or magic formula. Arup Roy Choudhury, chairman and managing director, National Thermal Power Corporation offered delegates insights into the management of projects from his practical experience of handling large public sector projects.
Mr. Choudhury said it’s important to understand what makes a project manager a leader. “A project manager who leads a project, explains and gives the team a roadmap is a good leader. Every project, like every individual, is unique. Most of our large public sector projects are delayed because of disputes (over land acquisition). A good project manager is one who can anticipate possible causes for delay and take proactive action. It’s like driving; if you watch three cars ahead of you, you can drive without applying brakes,” Mr. Choudhury said. Mr. Choudhury stressed the need to manage people to achieve project success. “What motivates one person does not motivate another. In India, where people tend to be sentimental, it’s particularly important to understand individuals in a team. Some of the attributes for effective project management are motivation, innovation, the ability to manage change, leadership and discipline,” he added. The leadership qualities that Mr. Choudhury has learned from his personal experience are: walk the talk, lead from the front, stand up when the going gets tough, integrity beyond doubt, stay away from gossip and rumor-mongering, forget and forgive, and be a father figure to the team.
India had deep roots in management, going as far back as 350 BC when a great king backed by a statesman ruled the country. History textbooks in India talk about the many successes of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya and the role that his shrewd teacher and political thinker Chanakya played. Chanakya wrote the Arthashastra and Chanakya Niti, which are considered as the economic and political treatises much ahead of their time that apply even to this day.
Mr. Radhakrishnan Pillai, author of Corporate Chanakya, culled out management lessons from the Arthashastra for today’s corporate world. He played a short video on the role that Chanakya played in uniting the small kingdoms in India against Alexander, paving the way for Alexander’s defeat. The video showed an important aspect of management: the power of communication to change stakeholder perceptions to achieve a common goal.
Some of the sutras (formulas) in the Arthashastra relate to project management. “The Arthashastra is a book of total management that gives the reader an all-round perspective of economics, politics, law, and foreign affairs. Today, as a project manager you cannot confine your knowledge to your project. From macroeconomics and geopolitical conditions to local law and administration, the project manager should be familiar with it all,” said Mr. Pillai.
Some of the project management principles that Chanakya talks about are documentation, making optimum use of people and materials, making provision for failure, understanding the human intellect, and prioritizing.