Keynote Addresses
PMI South Asia

Leading in a Hybrid World

Sudish Panicker is a chartered accountant and cost accountant with experience in accounting, financial services management, commercial banking and retail. He is on the national council of the National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM) Global Capability Centers (GCC). He is the co-chair of the Pune chapter of NASSCOM GCC.

Business organizations follow a variety of structures—a physical one that is usually static, and an organizational structure that is dynamic in nature. Moreover, businesses are either vertically or horizontally aligned to manage their projects.

But today organizations need to think of yet another format—an “amoebic structure” with no definite shape but with sufficient agility, flexibility and assurance that the structure will determine the right course of action to manage projects and obtain the desired results. For instance, during the pandemic-related lockdown, businesses adopted alternative working patterns and consumers realized that they could get a variety of goods delivered at their doorstep. That, in turn, led businesses to reinvent their operating models and get closer to the consumers. With an “amoebic structure,” organizations can easily accommodate such change.

Today, words like “hybrid”, “remote” and “new normal” have become common. But at the start of the pandemic, while some businesses struggled to work remotely, others did not take time to move to a virtual mode of work.

Project managers need new competencies to address multiple challenges arising out of the new ways of working. They need to establish a sense of ownership, collaboration and inclusivity, and ensure that there is the right emotional connection within the team even if they are not at the same location. “No matter what we do in life, at the heart of it, we are all program managers. And, hence, instead of trying to turn the clock back to 2019, embrace the present and march ahead,” he said.

Key Takeaways

Be prepared to address multiple challenges.
Develop a sense of collaboration to ensure project success.
Redesign organizational structure for agility and flexibility.
Develop an emotional connection with your team.
Work toward establishing a sense of ownership and leadership in team members.

Solutions for Timely Justice Systems

Shailesh Gandhi is a first-generation entrepreneur and a distinguished alumnus awardee of the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. The only Right to Information (RTI) activist to have been chosen as a central information commissioner, he disposed of a record 20,000+ cases, ensuring that most cases were decided in less than 90 days.

Though India’s judicial system is the key pillar of Indian democracy, it is a far cry when it comes to resolving certain intrinsic issues, thus exposing its flaws and inefficiencies. Shailesh Gandhi said that though there have been improvements in areas like roads, telecommunication and railways, the judicial system has lagged behind. This calls for innovative inputs and solutions.

These statistics say it all: 70% of legal cases are disposed of in less than four months in many countries, whereas in India only 35% are disposed of in a year. The average time taken to settle a simple legal case in India is between 25 and 30 months, whereas in European countries it is around six months.

Mr. Gandhi discussed judicial delays due to an increasing backlog of cases. There are more than 122,850 convicts and 427,160 undertrials as of 2021. Most of them are poor, have no means to influence the proceedings in their favor and languish in jail awaiting trial.

He recommended major judicial reforms to enable timely delivery of justice. With an average of 21% of judicial positions being vacant, filling vacancies must be a priority. Moreover, courts must switch to the virtual mode for hearing cases. It will enable courts to tackle 90% of the cases in a year and lessen the burden of backlog cases.

Key Takeaways

Remember that delayed justice is synonymous with injustice.
Understand that the accountability of chief justices is to ensure speedy justice.
Implement e-filing of petitions, affidavits and fee payments.
Enable algorithm-based computerized case listing, case allocation and adjournments with only a 5% override given to judges.
Enlist project managers to help in the timely delivery of justice.

Building Project Management Culture for Better Project Margins—A Common Sense Approach

Sandeep Kumar has 25 years of professional experience in the software industry. His expertise lies in process automation, project and portfolio management and product life cycle management solutions. He founded ProductDossier in January 2006 with a focus on building enterprise solutions for global corporations.

Using an analogy of doctors who refuse to dispense medication instantly without understanding a patient’s medical history, Mr. Kumar explained that project managers must also first identify the key barriers to improve project margins before recommending a course of action.

He said that it is critical for project managers to figure out and analyze key systemic issues before acting upon them. These include cost estimations, project setup, and resource forecasting and utilization. Project managers need to be aware of the actual versus planned project performance for timely corrective actions, such as closely monitoring billing and days sales outstanding (DSO), to control revenue leakage.

Mr Kumar pointed out that it is not the responsibility of only the finance team to produce the desired financial outcomes. When people across different functions work in tandem, improving project margins becomes easier.

To realize project profitability, Mr. Kumar recommended developing a strong project management culture—awareness of the challenges, a sense of purpose and ownership of the project. He said achieving the targets is not about tools; the right culture will help in reaping exponential value.

Key Takeaways

Understand that project margins are not necessarily about money but about customer satisfaction.
Ensure accurate cost estimates to meet the target number in the execution process.
Manage change requests efficiently and avoid a dent in project profitability.
Build a robust project management culture to create sustainable and exponential results.
Focus on empowerment and empathy to achieve a project management culture.

Reimagining the Future of Work

Achin Gupta is an entrepreneurial leader who has established new businesses across markets in India, Europe and the emerging markets. He is driven by the purpose of making high-quality, affordable healthcare accessible for patients.

“Challenge is actually the best time to force you into doing something that will eventually become an opportunity,” said Achin Gupta. The pandemic forced sectors across the globe to think beyond the obvious. As panic and anxiety reigned in the world, the pharmaceutical sector used grit and innovation to overcome the challenges.

“During the pandemic, we evaluated what our manufacturing should be like in the future. We realized that it had to be more automated, paperless and touchless. Hence, we put the Internet of Things and robotics in place. Similarly, project managers must determine what are the optimal conditions, and accordingly allocate resources and engage the workforce adequately to successfully undertake their tasks,” Mr. Gupta recommended.

He rated problem-solving as a fundamental skill for a project manager, as a lot of the strategic change management agenda is driven by them. Clarity of thoughts is equally important. The objective must be to have shared outcomes and not just shared activities. If it does not happen, everyone will be working to reach their own targeted goal but miss the organization’s goal. They must also focus on the speed of getting work executed; this speed must be accompanied with agility, else there will be a fear that you might go too fast and too far but in the wrong direction.

Key Takeaways

Identify what will be a significant transformation and communicate it down the line.
Have clarity of thoughts and clarity on roles and responsibilities within the organization.
Focus on investments, resource allocation, prioritization and risk management.
Employ a multimodal way of communication.
Remember that the future is not a fixed destination; be prepared to change and be agile.

Shifting Gears: Are You Future-Ready?

Brigadier Sushil Bhasin (Retired) is a coach for military-inspired leadership and time consciousness, and a global keynote and TEDx speaker. He spent 34 years in the Indian Army and has been applying the principles of military-inspired leadership in the corporate and educational world. He has authored a self-help book titled “Design Your Life.”

Mr. Bhasin nudged the audience to look into the future with this question in their mind: “How can we plan for a future we do not know of?” He suggested looking beyond challenges and being hopeful because only then will opportunities become apparent.

When it is well known that change is the only constant, why does change cause concern? He believes that the reason for concern is not change by itself, but instead the speed of change. Therefore, contingency planning is crucial to prepare for unexpected scenarios and be future-ready.

Reminding the audience of the VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world, he urged them to add three Ds to it to make it more relevant today—diverse, disruptive and digital.

He placed changing one’s mindset as the most important skill to learn how to swim in the unknown waters and survive. One needs to do away with a fixed mindset and embrace a growth mindset that helps in building a positive attitude. This will ultimately translate into good performance and successful outcomes.

He also compared the critical skills needed in the armed forces and in project management. Military leaders lead projects, while project managers manage projects. But there is a shared objective of executing projects and accomplishing missions efficiently.

“Leaders must have a clear vision for the future, seize opportunities to unleash the best, upskill and reskill one’s core competency and be agile to adapt to change,” he said.

Key Takeaways

Have a clear vision, know your mission and what you want to accomplish.
Know that it is not the strongest who survive tough times, but the ones more adaptable to change.
Think and operate ahead of the predictability curve.
Lead by example and empower people toward a common goal.
Look past managing a crisis each day; plan better to secure continuous success.

Direct Correlation Between Client Success and Organization Culture

Vishal Verma is a program implementation manager with experience in program, project and construction management. He develops specialized program management solutions on complex projects around the world and works closely with major utilities in the United States and globally, delivering best practices for their design and construction projects and programs.

No matter which industry you are in or what project you are working on, how you connect with people makes all the difference to project outcomes. Vishal Verma spoke about the importance of stakeholder management to achieve desired outcomes.

While talking about Burns & McDonnell’s culture that is centered on the motto “We are All Employee-Owners,” he said, “Employee ownership is our common thread that connects and drives us to deliver remarkable work for our clients. We believe that ownership is the key to personal and collective success.”

Growth of each team member is important too. The company assigns newly hired fresh college graduates three projects in a row in the first year, followed by five in the next year. By the time they reach 35 to 40 years of age, they will have the experience of working on different projects.

Touching upon project failure, he said that hundreds of factors are behind it, but identifying the cause that led to the failure is important.

“It is necessary to embrace artificial intelligence and also frequently impart training to the staff so that they are updated on the new technologies,” he added.

Key Takeaways

Invest in young people and help them gain confidence.
Make them own projects and be accountable for the outcomes.
Focus on service to clients to drive success.
Make sure to learn from the experience of retiring workers.
Embrace artificial intelligence.

Leveraging Technology, Driving Outcomes

Renu Menon has 28 years of experience in driving strategic technology initiatives for clients across banking, financial services, media, and consumer industries. She has been leading teams for migrating and modernizing IT workloads on AWS Cloud.

Digital transformation is the need of the hour. Businesses are engaging in digital transformation in some form, thanks to the rapidly evolving consumer expectations and changing demographics. Renu Menon laid emphasis on the role of IT not just as an enabler but also as a driver of business outcomes.

However, achieving the business objectives of digital transformation often eludes organizations. While about 90% of businesses are engaging in some form of digitalization, only 15% – 16% believe that they are realizing the benefits in terms of keeping pace with changing demands.

She emphasized that to drive business value through innovation and agility, businesses must change their mindset and approach. They should redefine traditional boundaries between departments and teams; make sure that the internal teams and partners are aligned and work toward achieving a common set of outcomes. Today, the single most important goal is to be able to respond quickly to change, and organizations are being judged in the market on this front. She also urged project managers to not focus on the output but channelize efforts to achieve the desired outcomes instead. It may not always be possible to validate the outputs against the expected outcomes.

She said, “Peter Weill of MIT Sloan School of Management in The Agility Paradox has stated that organizational agility is the ability to respond, decide, embrace, chang and execute quickly.” And hence the time to execute continues to shrink as digitally enabled startups reinvent the market. Agility is no longer a choice to compete successfully in today’s landscape.

Key Takeaways

Focus on achieving the desired business outcomes, not merely the outputs.
Prioritize team management.
Change the mindset of the team and redefine your approach for agility.
Communicate your vision to the team effectively.

The Crafting of an All-Round Leader

K.R.S. Jamwal is responsible for the incubation of new ventures, such as Tata Health and Tata UniStore, and investments made by Tata Industries in new businesses and startups. He is also a member on the board of the overseas subsidiary of Tata Industries—Qubit Investments PTE (Singapore).

In a conversation with Dr. Srini Srinivasan, regional managing director of PMI South Asia, K.R.S. Jamwal shared the secret sauce of Tata Group’s success. As per the company’s philosophy, Tata encourages employees to take ownership of their work and does not enforce any standard operating procedure. If someone wants to take ownership of something and accept the associated responsibility, Tata does not hesitate to give an opportunity to the employee. Jamwal acknowledged that he has been a fortunate beneficiary of this philosophy.

On being asked about his journey from being a project manager to being the head of incubation of new ventures, he revealed that he began his career as a project executive. In the past, designations were strictly controlled in the Tata Group. One was expected to do a full cycle of a project before earning the title of a project manager.

He spoke about how to effectively leverage new technologies that can give a competitive edge to your business. As a leader, you need to scan, select, and adopt those technologies that help fuel the efficiency and productivity of your team. He also cautioned that the pace of technological change is relatively much faster now. Leaders need to unlearn and relearn to stay relevant with the changing times.

Discussing the evolving nature of the PMI Talent Triangle®, he said, “It resonates with me, and I can relate to it. Given the fluidity of the way of the world and how the world is changing at an accelerated rate, it is a sensible thing.”

Power skills are drastically needed in today’s workplace, which is in a constant flux of change. He pointed out that organizations must prioritize people, who are their biggest asset. Power skills pertain to how you relate and collaborate with your people and help define the type of leader you are.

One must invest time and effort to develop the right expertise, capabilities and confidence to venture into an unfamiliar field. This will help you mold yourself into an all-around leader.

Key Takeaways

Reinvent continuously to thrive in a volatile environment.
Everything in life is a project, and you can be a good project too.
The shared energy of the team fosters a project's success.
Embrace the right attitude to evolve with time.
Stay hungry to improve your steep learning curve.