Rajiv Gupta, Partner & Director, The Boston Consulting Group
Rajiv has significant expertise in IT strategy & road mapping, target operating models involving IT shared services & outsourcing, and program management of large IT enablement programs.
The success of mega ambitious and complex programs such as Chandrayan, Mangalyan, and others are visibly touted as signs of technological progress and rightly so! The scientists leading the programs may be the most visible figures, but the team included hundreds of people led by a selected group of program and project managers at ISRO. Tasked with the nearly impossible goal of putting an Indian satellite on the Moon & Mars with lesser resources and time, the programs will always be remembered as a remarkable feat of technological innovation. And yet to many leaders, its true legacy lies in its project management achievements. And the ISRO project is not unique. Every organization translates its transformation goals into projects and with the increasing disruption (Digital included!) underway, we only see the number of transformation initiatives and their complexity multiply. What differentiates the winners from laggards is successful execution. ‘Ideas are commodity. Execution of them are not’ - Michael Dell.
Project management is one of the most crucial elements in effective execution in large & complex organizations and one of the least understood. Proliferating status dashboards, odd escalations, and sparsely used metrics have become synonymous with ‘Project management’, giving it a bad name. Despite a large IT services industry in the country, availability of quality project management professionals for the industry is truly scarce. As per a PMI talent gap report, 1.57 million new project management roles will be created globally every year until 2020. This talent gap will be evident in the large economies of the world with organized workforces, especially those that are experiencing good all round economic growth.
“Project management is one of the most crucial elements in effective execution in large & complex organizations and one of the least understood”
While certifications help signal one’s credentials in the job market, to be an effective project manager requires more than effective process-based training. An effective project management professional would have strong fundamental problem solving skills, strong communication skills with varied stakeholders, broad knowledge of multiple domains, and ability to understand interconnectedness of different topics, and past track record on deep hands-on execution, which are essential for an organisation. This combination is rare and is worth its weight in gold.
Projects come in all forms and shapes – It could range from unifunctional projects with clearly targeted value, few well-defined initiatives to large multi-region, multifunctional, enterprise/organization wide programs with multiple interlinked initiatives. Project management teams can adopt three different approaches – Accountable, Activist, and Passive.
In any large organization, the likelihood of a project of significant value, being contained within a single function without interdependencies with other teams is limited. Creation of cross-functional teams would be necessary and at the same time, creating structures with clear accountabilities and disbanding them into new teams at the end of projects is a complex and costly exercise. We have observed that Activist PMO works best for many of our client situations. This is because frequently, one finds that the multiple functions do not report directly to the project manager (thus making the accountable model unviable). At the same time, the project manager is indeed responsible for the outcome as well and to not just state metrics and why a project is behind (closer to passive PMO).
A good example of Activist PMO is to see the product manager in action in any of the Unicorn tech startups. Often, the product managers know their objectives very clearly (what their customers want) and are the brightest employees and good problem solvers. They will be able to highlight the right status to the right people within the firm in an agile manner where the data is credible and can drive towards decision making. They understand the broader organization well and are able to mobilize resources across technical, commercial, and administrative teams for getting the product release done in time.
If done well, Activist PMO not only helps in successful execution, but also in ensuring sustainability. While a lot of celebrations have happened at large about the big milestones at ISRO, little has been discussed about how it has seen a sustained and increasing trajectory of success over the years. Much of this credit would go to the strong project management capabilities in the organization – We are sure the celebrity scientists would agree too!