PMRC : Entrepreneurial Innovation at Work
PMI India

If the test of a successful project is to deliver on the promises made, whatever be the circumstances, the Project Management Regional Conference 2020 is an example of that.

The virtual conference, held on 20 and 21 June with the theme, Project Management in Entrepreneurial Innovation, attracted around 1,500 participants from across South Asia. True to the theme, the project managers behind the conference displayed an entrepreneurial mindset of agility, creative thinking, and collaboration to overcome difficulties and setbacks.

PMI India and PMI West Bengal Chapter, the conference hosts, decided to take the event online because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With a month to go and the planning in its final sta ges, West Bengal and other parts of east India were hit by super cyclone Amphan, a tropical storm that left 98 dead and the state’s infrastructure battered. However, it did not deter the team from going all out and making the conference a memorable experience for the participants.

It is often believed that startups and project management do not go hand in hand – startups operate in a chaotic environment and need to be extremely agile, whereas project management prescribes well-defined systems and practices. However, there is a lot that entrepreneurs can apply in their startup journey from project management. The conference theme provided a forum to explore ways in which entrepreneurs and project practitioners can learn from one another. It was a timely theme in the country where the growing startup ecosystem is attracting global attention.

The conference started with an introduction and welcome address by Chapter Vice President Saon Sen Nandi and Chapter President Sumit Kumar Sinha, respectively.

Mr. Sinha spoke of the need to marry the classical project management approach with an innovative mindset to provide value to customers and bring change in society.

As industries continue to get disrupted and the move toward digital technologies accelerates, professionals will need to adapt to the new market demands. Reminding project managers to continually re-evaluate their skills basket and stay relevant, Dr. Srini Srinivasan, managing director, PMI India, said, “While all of you are making this journey toward innovation, please know that we at PMI are there to help and support you in any upskilling and reskilling needs that you might have.”

Over the next two days, delegates listened to speakers from a variety of sectors. On day one, Amitabh Ray, managing director, Ericsson India Global Services, spoke about managing uncertainty in projects; Major General (retd.) A.K.Sapra, director, Army Institute of Management, Kolkata, shared his experiences of fencing the Line of Control; Avelo Roy, managing director, Kolkata Ventures, offered lessons on the entrepreneurial mindset; Nimish Gupta, managing director, South Asia-RICS, spoke on stakeholder communication; and Anita Ganesh, partner, IBM India, talked about grassroot innovation in projects.

The other highlights of the day were a panel discussion on ‘Technology: A Savior in Disruptions,’ moderated by Ms. Sen Nandi, and an introduction of the initiative, ‘Empowerment of women in project management,’ by Komal Mathur, chair, Region 11 Women Engagement Committee. The speakers on the panel were Dr. Sandip Sarkar, technology executive, IBM; Dr. Arpan Pal, chief scientist, TCS; and Utpal Garin, professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata.

The speakers and topics for the next day were: Priya Patra, project manager, Capgemini, on the Project Management Technology Quotient; Quazi Ahmed, executive and leadership coach, on resilient leadership; Tanya Elizabeth Ken, founder, LakshyaShala EduTech, on project management and innovation in social entrepreneurship; Swami Vedatitananda, monk of the Ramakrishna order, on spirituality and project management in technical industry; Ashutosh Chatterji and Adam Stoffel, venture technologists, on enabling entrepreneurial innovation through engineering excellence; and Ashish Vidyarthi, National Award winning actor, on being a ‘juggler in the storm’.

The conference was a volunteer-driven effort that saw volunteers from other PMI chapters in the country come together to help the PMI West Bengal Chapter successfully organize the first virtual regional conference. The conference co-hosts were Koushik Srinivasan from PMI Chennai Chapter and Monika Muddamshetty from PMI Pearl City Chapter.

Embrace Uncertainty, Change Work Practices

Amitabh Ray drew practitioners’ attention to some common work practices of project managers, and how these need a change in today’s times. Project managers are usually unaware of the chaos that surrounds them. COVID-19 has forced them to rethink the way they work. In a talk peppered with anecdotes and philosophical thinking, Mr. Ray explored ways to deal with uncertainties in projects.

His first advice is that project managers should not focus on perfecting the plan. He believes that overengineered plans give little importance to execution, thereby increasing the chances of failure. Instead, aiming to flawlessly execute smaller aspects each day will make success inevitable.

Uncertainty can be unsettling to project managers who see their ventures as having only binary outcomes – success or failure. Instead, when the result of a project is not in one’s control, they must think like innovators and focus on opportunities for growth and development. Mr. Ray urged project managers to “think like a gambler,” appreciate the constant risk of failure, and relentlessly work to improve oneself so as to be less wrong with time. “If the situation is as turbulent as it is today, the only thing that we can do is to work in sync with this dynamic situation to adapt, survive, and thrive,” he said.

He spoke about Descartes’ principle of Cartesian doubt and Aristotle’s ‘First Principle of Thinking’ that say one must question everything in order to better understand the crux of any issue. Mr. Ray cited Elon Musk, the founder of SpaceX and Tesla, as an impeccable practitioner of this. He advised project managers to follow a similar approach to chase unexplored possibilities, which is an invaluable tactic during these times.

Challenges of Fencing the Line of Control

As project managers grapple with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, Major General (retd.) A.K. Sapra recounted a time when, despite having the odds stacked against him, he led his team to a formidable success – fencing the Line of Control that separates the India and Pakistancontrolled parts of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. The project highlights the importance of being tenacious, innovative, and entrepreneurial during turbulent times.

The undertaking in Jammu and Kashmir was considered nearly impossible. The team had to undergo mountaineering training and acclimatize themselves to the high altitude. The snow also made transporting machinery arduous; avalanches repeatedly toppled over portions of the fence. Additionally, there were safety concerns. Shelling and firing from the other side were common, and the construction team had to wear bullet-proof vests and often take shelter in temporary bunkers near worksites. Moreover, reports of casualties when the cease-fire had elapsed left the morale low. Fearing for their life, porters sometimes would not return to collect their wages. The Indian Army doubled the wages and provided workers insurance coverage to increase their motivation levels. Prayers according to different faiths were offered for the team’s safety.

Keeping the team motivated was integral to the project success as designing such a robust fence required not just good planning and execution, but also innovative thinking. Commandos were asked to try to penetrate the fence and expose loopholes, based on which the design was reviewed and changed. “We did experimentation as a continuous process to perfect the design,” said the retired general.

Despite the challenges, the project was completed with months to spare. The fence can be seen from outer space, an image that reinforces the region’s delicate geo-political situation.
From Employee to Entrepreneur

‘Employee to Entrepreneur’ suggests taking risks and choosing uncertainty over comfort. However, Avelo Roy, said, “It is better to die with memories than with dreams,” as he advised project managers on how to create their own startups.

The transition to entrepreneurship is not always a rough one. In fact, one need not quit one’s existing job while brainstorming, he said. While planning, Mr. Roy recommended completing the sentence: “We help ___ to ___ by ___.” If the entrepreneur knows these answers, it will greatly help later. “If you do everything for everyone, you’re nothing for no one. So be something for someone,” he added.

With regards to execution, some useful skills for startups are communication, coding, design, project management, digital marketing and data analytics, money management, interpersonal interactions, languages, and search engine and hashtag optimisation. Undoubtedly, a single individual will not possess all these skills. The solution to this is expressed by “Can’t spell ‘entrepreneur’? Be one and hire someone who can.” Building a team of individuals with diverse skill sets is crucial while creating a startup, and is made easier by reflecting first on one’s own capabilities and shortcomings.

Despite the current global economic slowdown, industries such as healthcare, insurance, data science, and astrology appear to be booming, making it a favourable time to initiate startups in these sectors. He believes experienced project managers will find opportunities in corporate training, social media influencing, and project management consultancy.

If an entrepreneur does everything right, she or he may begin to see results in as little as 10 months, Mr. Roy said, adding that failures are inevitable but growth and tenacity are what ensure eventual success.
The New Norm in Stakeholder Communication

Despite innumerable modern jargons and internet slangs that aim to enhance communication, people’s abilities to converse with one another seem to be diminishing. By exploring numerous anecdotes and models, Nimish Gupta elucidated on techniques for effective communication.

In a video depicting a man meeting his young daughter after months of being quarantined, the power of non-verbal communication is conveyed impeccably. No words are spoken, but a myriad of thoughts and emotions are expressed through their embrace, eye contact and smiles. Similarly, leaders must incorporate verbal (content), vocal (voice modulation), and visual (eye-contact, gestures and expressions) means of communication to effectively engage with their teams.

In fact, fruitful conversations are as much about active listening as they are about speaking. With regards to modern communication, Mr. Gupta said, “It’s like guerrilla warfare – you post your opinions and then rush away from them because you’re scared of feedback.” For a leader, however, communication is synonymous with dialogue. Rather than being prolific orators, they must be able to understand and remember criticisms and emotions. “Silence is one of the greatest weapons of leadership,” he added, as it tends to have a more lasting impact on the audience and prevents miscommunication.

He believes that real communication is beyond the spoken word, as it entails being an engaging speaker and an active listener. In this age of information overload, effective communication is key to improving productivity, working relationships and stakeholder management.
Grassroots Innovation in Projects

The pandemic has disrupted every aspect of our lives; from the way we work and study to how we interact socially. People from all walks of life are looking for innovative means of adapting to these dire circumstances. Grassroot innovation – or innovating from the basics – is invaluable to project managers today, and Anita Ganesh outlined ways to achieve it.

Contrary to popular opinion, having a startup culture need not entail mis-fit teenagers working out of garages. Instead, it means creating an environment conducive to innovation where every employee is exploring creative ways to deal with problems. The traditional methods of project management are long gone, and the focus now is increased collaboration with teams and clients. According to Ms. Ganesh, “Grassroot innovation is (about) innovation by each and every team member,” and creating a start-up culture is the first way of accomplishing this.

In projects where innovation appears to be too costly, collaboration is key. Following a “Shark Tank approach” whereby practitioners pitch ideas to investors and venture capitalists for possible investments, is often necessary for highly innovative projects.

Finally, strategic decision-making and risk management are crucial to such ventures. McKinsey’s “Four-Action Framework” highlights ways of doing so during COVID-19, including showing empathy to teams and clients, building skills necessary in today’s environment, working in partnership with clients, and re-imagining businesses post-COVID.

Grassroot innovation has successfully been inculcated into a business when ideas come from the bottom, not from leadership. As conveyed by Ms. Ganesh, it leads to an “enhanced customer experience, successful partnership businesses and engaged employees.”
PMTQ to the Rescue

Priya Patra set the focus on the various components of the Project Management Technology Quotient (PMTQ), as prescribed by PMI, and how it could be a valuable tool for project managers in these uncertain times. Project managers must work on elevating their PMTQ to broaden their skill set and face the new challenges, she said.

Ms. Patra believes that the first principle of PMTQ, ‘always on curiosity,’ is the key to innovation and new ideas. She said one must keep an open mind to new ideas and choose only what works best for a project. Quoting Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, who said, “Google is a company of questions and not a company of answers”, she added that she believes that constant questioning and curiosity will keep the creative juices flowing.

She referred to ‘all inclusive leadership’ as one’s willingness to include a team in decision-making, and where the team has a voice.

The third aspect, ‘a future-proof talent pool’, she said, is not about bots stealing jobs. Pointing toward bots performing functions that are either off limits for humans in this time or are augmenting the work of teams, she said that while bots carry out mundane activities, humans can attend to issues of more value.

Ms. Patra added a fourth dimension, ‘agility all the way’, which is a natural tendency that human beings possess. The proof of that lies in the way people have adapted to a virtual world with no warning during the pandemic.

She called the PMTQ a helpful guideline for project managers to enhance and enrich their leadership skills.
Resilience in Leadership

In the current situation, leaders need to build more resilience to face the unknown challenges. Dr. Quazi Ahmed offered some insights into what it takes to be a resilient leader. He stressed on the need for leaders to connect, communicate, and collaborate with others.

He advised project leaders to begin with establishing a connection with the team, building relationships with colleagues, and then improving communication by encouraging two-way conversations. Finally, project leaders must collaborate with the entire team to find answers to the challenges they are facing.

He spoke of Sven Hansen of The Resilience Institute in New Zealand, and the institute’s research on resilience in leadership. Among the institute’s research findings are the five practices of exemplar y leadership – to be a role model, to inspire, to challenge, to enable, and to encourage. He also recommended The Leadership Challenge, a book by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, as a comprehensive read on resilient leadership.

Dr. Ahmed also shared his top three tips for resilient leadership. “The first one is to respond, rise up to the challenges, confront the truth, and retain faith. Second, to recover, you need to overcome the problems as a leader and a team by being positive. And finally, you can thrive through connection, communication, and collaboration,” he elaborated.

He cited anti-apartheid hero and former president of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, as the epitome of resilient leadership, and shared a quote by the leader that exemplified his leadership style: “It always seems impossible until it is done.”
Innovation in Social Entrepreneurship

Tanya Elizabeth Ken, a 12th grade student, spoke of her entrepreneurial journey which began when she was 14 years old. Her quest for equality in education and community development has seen her face the “mountains and valleys of entrepreneurship.” Through this journey, she found some answers to what constitutes a successful project manager.

The first step, she said, is to recognize and fully understand the purpose and mission behind the project. Once that has been achieved, it is important to bridge the gap between the mission and the ground reality. Then follow up with recognizing talent within the team.

Also, one must appreciate the need for mentorship by advising and guiding others to achieve the common goal. Finally, for a project to be successful, the offerings need to be dynamic, in order to keep pace with the changing times.

The “ground zero” of project management, according to Ms.Ken, is mission thinking. She attributes the root cause of most failures as lack of mission thinking. While citing an example of the famous Mumbai Dabbawalas, she said their success was solely due to the focus on the mission, to deliver the dabba (lunch boxes) to the owner at the allocated time. That helped them conquer the myriad obstacles in their journey, such as tackling traffic and the various modes of transport, only to get the mission accomplished.

She also pointed out that she believes that innovation is a natural extension of mission thinking and that visualising the end user or customer can help set the goal.
Spirituality and Project Management in Technical Industry

Project management and spirituality, however opposed they may seem, can be interconnected, says Swami Vedatitananda, who has had experience in both streams. He believes that there are three aspects when working on a project – people, money and material – and a comprehensive outlook of the three will always meet with the required efficiency and success.

According to him, spirituality is an important input for the thought process, especially in a country like India. He believes that spirituality transcends religion and is a part of the culture that can be adapted to project management as a style of functioning.

He further elaborated by referring to three distinct ideas put together by Swami Vivekananda. First, all human activity should not be equated with money. Two, work has to be associated with purity and a belief that every action will have a consequence. The last idea explains the need to work in a detached manner.

Through tales and anecdotes, as Swamiji explained these ideas, he also stressed the fact that one is responsible for one’s own ideals and actions. Motivation has to come from within, and that will create an environment that fosters discussion, critical thinking, and deep insight. These are all qualities that ensure success.
Entrepreneurial Innovation and Engineering Excellence

Ashutosh Chatterji gave the participants an insightful look into entrepreneurIal innovation. He began with the topic of negativity bias, which is probably the first hurdle that innovators face. Humans tend to respond more to a negative stimulus rather than a positive one, and that keeps us from trying something new. He recommends that innovators should respect and embrace this negativity bias in order to recognize big opportunities. He believes the loss is far greater when innovators are not cognizant of the negativity bias.

Mr. Chatterji then moved on to procurement management with negative bias, where he explained that the success of the project depends on there being equal risk for both the seller and the buyer. He was also of the opinion that monetizing human effort is creating no incentives and is only encouraging averageness as opposed to excellence.

So how does one achieve excellence and innovation? Have big ambitions, he said. Lofty vision is key to innovation. He quoted Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, whose vision statement for the company was, “Empowering every individual on the planet to achieve more”. Vision must be backed with objectives, and objectives must be backed by results. Inspirational risk management then kicks in and suppresses negativity bias.

Adam Stoffel joined the talk to demonstrate how, along with Mr. Chatterji, they were applying the components for better innovation and engineering excellence in their new venture. Their mission is to partner with innovators to create sustainable positive impact at scale.
Juggler in the Storm

Actor Ashish Vidyarthi set a light tone when he started his talk admitting that he knew nothing about project managers or project management. He, of course, was joking. The actor then went on to draw similarities between the job of project managers and actors to that of jugglers, saying that like a juggler, leaders manage various roles and challenges all at once.

He believes that leaders who produce results in a crisis are able to do so regardless of the situation, and that is what all project managers are doing in this present crisis. He set aside fears of artificial intelligence replacing humans in the current scenario, saying that only humans can juggle, bots cannot. He reinforced the idea that only humans can reinvent and restructure themselves before they step into the unknown climate of a storm.

Mr. Vidyarthi stated that the present COVID-19 environment has forced everyone out of their comfort zone and has created a space without boundaries, by virtue of the virtual world. He went on to praise project managers who have committed themselves to tackling projects with an innovative mindset, and are an inspiration to their team. Leaders are not only for handling people and their capabilities, but their sensibilities as well, he said.

The actor ended his talk with the thought that leadership is about passing the baton with the satisfaction of having left something of value and consequence behind.
Technology – A Savior during Disruptions
The conference brought together an academician, a research scientist, and an industry expert to discuss some of the burning issues around the adoption of disruptive technologies such as internet of things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and blockchain.

Utpal Garain, professor, Indian Statistical Institute, Kolkata, highlighted the issue of data security while designing AI and ML systems. A key question facing organizations is how to limit the exposure to data since data scientists who design these systems may not be from the organization. “Is it possible to create AI/ML systems with encrypted data? Or is it possible for third-parties to give an encrypted AI/ML algorithm to an organization who can then run their data on it,” asked Prof. Garain.

Dr. Arpan Pal, chief scientist – embedded systems and robotics research, Tata Consultancy Services, said AI systems are getting more and more intelligent. “To overcome the challenges as Prof. Garain has pointed out, everybody must come together – physicists, domain specialists, scientists, computer scientists. It needs an inter-disciplinary approach. It’s all about making sense,” he said.

Dr. Sandipan Sarkar, technology executive - blockchain, IOT and AI – IBM, feels many organizations take up IoT projects but do not know what to do with the data they collect. “Enterprises have taken a myopic view so far. To create value out of the data, they need a cohesive approach,” he said.

He added that information must lead to insights and then to wisdom. “The final aim is to get our enterprises to get wiser as we move on,” he added.