PMI South Asia

Resilience by Collaboration: Building and Thriving Through Ecosystem and Organizational Synergies

Ramkumar (Ram) Narayanan leads strategy and growth for VMware’s largest global center outside of its headquarters in Palo Alto, USA. This includes working closely with the company leadership on portfolio management, talent strategy, and positioning of VMware as a leading organization in India. Before joining VMware, Narayanan served in global leadership positions at eBay, Yahoo!, and Microsoft.

There is more to a crisis than disappointment and pain. VMware India lived up to the dictum ‘never waste a good crisis’ by using some of the opportunities arising out of the COVID-19 pandemic to create a new organizational framework for resilience.

Ramkumar Narayanan spoke about an enterprise-wide exercise the organization undertook undertook at the start of the pandemic that involved over 300 employees to create a structure for strong alignment between strategy, execution, and outcomes. The key objective was to identify and harness opportunities in the existing ecosystem to build a resilient organizational structure. It would nurture an environment that drives ideation, a collaborative network, execution excellence, and business impact.

“Organizations cannot be fragile that break easily and cannot tolerate shocks. Being robust is not enough; you can survive shocks but being robust means staying the same and not having to adapt. We need to have resilient systems that thrive in adverse conditions, and help us learn and grow,” he said.

The company built a ‘5P framework’ of key pillars (focus areas), programs, projects, performance metrics, and people.

One of the key learnings was to internalize project management as a strategic capability to deliver value. The company also realized the need to move from an activity-based mindset to an outcome-based mindset, create cross-functional synergies, and take advantage of the opportunities in the ecosystem of partners and associations.

The initiative has helped in breaking down silos to bring people together, create strategy alignment with organizational goals, develop an outcomebased approach with key results identified for over 60 projects, create new partnerships such as those for diversity and inclusion, and define rewards and recognition to inspire teams.


● Make mistakes and learn by taking up projects with a high degree of uncertainty.
● Be open to change.
● Stay curious by taking up courses, listening, and reading
● Innovate by building buffers to absorb shocks from failures.
● Develop hobbies and experiment with new ideas and tools.

Every Day is a ‘New Normal’

Col. Anand Swaroop (Retd.) is a techno-management professional, who served in the Indian Army for over three decades. He has been honored with the Sena Medal twice and the Arjuna Award.

The COVID-19 pandemic has compelled organizations to embrace a ‘new normal’ in project management practices. Anand Swaroop outlined three important aspects that contribute to the success of a project in any scenario – a clear project goal, a well-defined plan or strategy, and an open-minded leader or team to execute the plan.

The new normal is witnessing unprecedented uncertainty and complexity. The course of this new reality remains unclear. What makes the current times extremely difficult is that conditions are constantly changing, with new scenarios emerging every now and then.

Therefore, organizations must stop relying on outdated response mechanisms even if they had worked in the past. Those mechanisms may not be relevant and impactful for new challenges and situations.

What must you do to tide over a crisis in which you have no experience or knowledge? Mr. Swaroop shared his experiences of managing military projects in unforgiving terrains devoid of any navigational landmarks. His team faced many obstacles – equipment malfunction, medical emergencies, navigational errors, limited resources, and the slim chance of an evacuation in case of an emergency.

However, tough conditions gave them new perspectives and helped them reprioritize their objectives. Fast-changing situations call for a new paradigm of leadership that prioritizes team engagement in the face of adversity. Leaders must motivate teams to embrace change to accomplish their project objectives. They need to understand employees’ emotional intelligence for better collaboration, and solve problems effectively.


● Every project needs a clear goal, strategy, and an open-minded leader.
● Reset the established structures and processes to deal with the uncertainties of the new normal.
● Do away with outdated response mechanisms to a crisis.
● Build relationship-based and not task-oriented leadership to deal with the ‘new normal.’
● Constantly work toward keeping team enthusiasm and confidence high.

Role of Defense and Aerospace Industry in India’s Quest for Self-Reliance

Alok Nanda heads the India technology center of GE that employs over 5,000 engineers and scientists in various industry verticals, including aviation, healthcare, power, and renewables. He is responsible for regional business outcomes through innovative technology solutions. Prior to GE, he spent eight years at the Indian Defence Research and Development Organization.

At a time when India’s self-reliance is under focus, Alok Nanda shed light on the country’s standing in the field of aerospace and defense. With several successes such as the Light Combat Aircraft, long-range missiles, and space launches by the Indian Space Research Organisation, India has no doubt established its prowess in this area. But a lot more needs to be done to strengthen the country’s R&D capabilities.

To date, GE has partnered with several academic institutions in India for joint technology development. Mr. Nanda said the 3D printed combustor is one such collaborative outcome that has no equivalent in the world.

One of the major stumbling blocks on the road to self-reliance is the country’s dependence on other nations for aerospace hardware and technology. The ownership of original designs of transferred technologies lies with the manufacturer, thus placing scientists and researchers in India at a disadvantage.

“For India to become the owner of its destiny, it is not enough to become a manufacturing hub; rather we need to also develop critical technologies here,” said Mr. Nanda.

He, however, cautioned against the over-involvement of academia in developing new technologies. Although there have been small successes as a result of collaboration with academia, no path-breaking outcomes have come along.

He recommends that the government allocates more funds for R&D projects based on competitive bidding so the best ideas get an opportunity to come out of the lab. Explaining the American model, he said funds are directly allocated to the industry based on certain conditions, and the industry body or company decides which academic institution to partner with to jointly develop the new technology.


● India has the talent but needs to nurture collaborations in R&D.
● India needs to aim to be self-reliant in technology development and not just manufacturing.
● The lack of experience in project management in academia is a stumbling block in developing new technologies.
● There is a belief that industry-led research is going to drive the nation toward self-reliance.
● Government is on the same page with the industry but the translation from intent to action is a journey in itself.

Is the ‘New Normal’ Really New?

Padma Parthasarathy heads the global consulting team at Tech Mahindra, which is engaged in business consulting, as well as technology and business process advisory, and re-engineering services. Ms. Parthasarathy is responsible for the growth of the digital business of Tech Mahindra.

Volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity (VUCA) that define our world today do not appear to be ending soon. Padma Parthasarathy cautioned that in today’s highly interconnected world, what happens in one part of the globe may greatly impact businesses in another part of the world.

She took the examples of two organizations that have dealt with this kind of complexity and uncertainty. For centuries, the Oxford University and the Japanese firm, Bumi, that specializes in building Buddhist temples, have stood the test of time and thrived against all odds. How have they weathered the storms? What valuable lessons can we derive from these organizations?

Ms. Parthasarathy highlighted that these two organizations have strictly invested in people. They hire the best people and nurture talent. They encourage employees to develop a deep sense of inquiry, challenge the status quo, and find creative solutions.

Elaborating on the concept of a “conscious enterprise,” she stressed that organizations must learn quickly about their clients’ needs, and adapt to those needs. Organizations must be purpose-driven, have a sense of direction, and move fast to integrate new capabilities. Additionally, they need to develop a highly flexible approach that encourages a culture of adaptive collaboration.


● Build a conscious enterprise that is purpose-driven in its business strategy.
● Leverage human and machine learning capabilities to sustain good performance in a crisis.
● Adopt a flexible and adaptable outlook to facilitate new learning quickly.
● Create programs like employee engagement for effective change management.
● Drive positivity and holistic wellness activities to enable a new normal workforce.
● Incorporate new technologies to allow better collaboration and zero-touch processes.

A Practitioner’s View on Mastering Risk & Performance in the ‘Never Normal’

Prithvi Shergill is the co-founder of Smarten Spaces, and chief business officer at Entomo (formerly KPISoft). In his last enterprise assignment, he was the chief human resource officer and senior corporate vice president, organization effectiveness, at HCL Technologies.

In the ‘never normal’ world, professionals are struggling for control over changed situations, and creating new ways of working. Prithvi Shergill said employees are curious about the current environment and the journey they are likely to take from now on. They are looking for meaning in their work, and want to have control over their performance, proficiency, passion, and productivity.

A key question for leaders to ask is: How can the enterprise of tomorrow drive performance in disruptive times? Mr. Shergill pointed out that there is a need for the leadership to engage, enable, and empower teams. First, leaders must engage the employees with purpose. Leaders need to equip them with insight and empower them. These will ensure employees’ personal growth, and eventually the organizational growth.

Leaders must rethink their operating models for the future and encourage new ideas. Changes in enterprise practices must be geared to improve competitiveness and resilience.

He advised project and program leaders to have clear beliefs, intentions, and priorities. When these are aligned well, action will fall into place and projects will meet the desired outcomes.


● Organizations must reimagine the new normal to solve the immediate obstacles.
● The role of leaders is to facilitate change in the organization to have control over performance and productivity.
● An enterprise must engage with purpose and support personal growth to sustain performance in a crisis.
● Leaders must ensure that their intentions and beliefs are well aligned.
● Develop leadership behaviors in terms of character, competence, and courage to enhance performance in the new normal.
● Rely on evidence-based decisions to drive performance in the current context.

Black Swan: Myth or Reality

David Hillson is a thought leader and practitioner in the field of risk management. He has advised organizations on risk management and has written 13 books on the subject. He is a PMI Fellow and an Honorary Fellow at the UK Association for Project Management.

“Is this something we have made up?” This is often the first thing people ask David Hillson when he speaks about ‘black swan’ events.

At the closing keynote, Mr. Hillson presented the concept of a black swan from the point of view of risk management and explained the challenges behind predicting such an event.

Quoting Nassim Nicholas Taleb in ‘The Black Swan: The impact of the Highly Improbable,’ he defined a black swan event as one that is completely inconceivable, causes extreme impact, and appears obvious in hindsight. Some recent examples of black swan events include the invention of the internet, the 2008 financial crisis, the 2015 European migrant crisis, and Brexit. All these events caught us unprepared but they had a significant impact on the world.

The next obvious question is whether the COVID-19 pandemic is a black swan event. He said that though the pandemic cannot be classified as one, the events that resulted from it, such as lockdowns, are black swan events.

He advised risk managers to be cognizant of these developments and design the right mitigation strategies. He said they must understand the key vulnerabilities associated with such an event, scan the environment for emergent risks, and closely monitor the early warning indicators and triggers. The strategy to manage risk is to build flexibility and resilience. Both of these can be don e at a personal, project, business, and society level.


● Note what defines the future: DANGER or Dynamic, Ambiguous, Non-linear, Glocal, Emergent and Relational.
● Be flexible in risk management; know how to bend without breaking.
● If you cannot control the volatile tides of change, learn to build better boats.
● Practice emotional literacy; learn how to self-moderate and make intentional choices.