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India needs project managers to avert risk

India needs project managers to avert risk

Raj Kalady, Managing Director of Project Management Institute, explains why India’s infrastructure developers are risk-agnostic and how training in project management has made a difference.

How has project management (PM) evolved in India?
A decade ago, the project manager’s role mostly included hard skills-how to draw up schedules, monitoring them, costing, budgeting, and other knowledge areas. Over a period of time, the role has become softer, including communication, sustainable management and HR management. So the role of project manager itself is a role designation study.

Has training kept pace?
PM bridges organisation strategy with execution, and organisations need to realise its importance. For example, L&T, which is setting up a project management institute in Vadodara, has realised that all they’re doing is projects. With proper training in PM, the project managers around the world can communicate in the same lexicon to be able to achieve uniform results. The good news for us as consultants is that in the last 4-5 years there has been tremendous shift is happening in academy towards project management.

We have currently about close to about 47 institutions in the country that teaching PM or have included it in the next curriculum.

That is still a low number, but five years back the number was less than three, so when I compare to that, it is heartening. China had what six institutions in 2006 teaching PM, while today they have close to 121, teaching two year full time special programmes in PM.

How much difference has training and adoption of PM made to infrastructure industry practice?
The infotech industry has really understood the power of PM, in that they are using it, they have hired certified people and they are seeing the benefits of it from a perspective of growth. It’s not been a small growth story, it’s been a growth story for decades.

There is a distinct career path for a project manager. Other industries such as infrastructure need to see the benefits. There is certainly a difference between what a project manager studies at college and what he finds in practice. That is why a fresh graduate in PM is first a team member. Our own certification programme demands five years of prior work experience. That is how a manager learns the real issues on the field. The key element is that to be aware of these issues and therefore plan these projects ahead.

Culturally, we are a risk-ignorant nation. We don’t look at risks, much less bother to document it. Safety nets are not made available-look at the bamboo scaffolding rather than using metal. So, in a manner of speaking, there is no point investing in a bridge, building a road right up to the river and then waiting for the clearances to build the bridge-that is a waste of engineering investment. A scheduler ensures enough inventory is available for plans A and B. Using standardised processes may not be 100 per cent successful, but there is a far higher predictability, far higher chances of success, as opposed to somebody going into it blindly. Not planning for long enough results in spending too much time on implementation, increasing the cost.

What is the proportion of time that you would spend to plan a typical project?
There is no real thumb rule since it is project-specific-each project is unique. I can’t say how much, but I would say one must spend at least 20-30 per cent of time, apart from planning on an ongoing basis.

Sometimes the project owner might actually stipulate the time for the implementation of the project. Can the scheduler still manage the timelines?
Yes. The scheduler plays a big role in managing multiple different processes. So does the risk manager. Often existing risks are replaced by new ones. You need to be constantly scanning the horizon and looking at what are the possible risks which exist.

Does project management set conditions that are too ideal to follow? Could this be why our risk-agnostic developers often don’t take to PM?
Project management is expensive if you look at from the perspective that a project leader had rather risk the failure than invest in PM. It’s a call they need to take. But that approach can result in delays and cost overruns.

Have project management’s benefits been quantified?
It is difficult to quantify benefits of PM in terms of percentage of increment. In our study on the value of project management, we concluded that we can’t get the real RoI. But we do know there is low wastage, and there is a higher number of projects on time rather than pre-PM.

What is the input cost?
Input cost is not very high, but will vary from organisation to organisation; typically, much of the input cost will be from education and training. It’s important for a large builder or infrastructure company to have a PM office.

Can the cost be a deterrent? For example, if a project is awarded on L1, a company may not be in a position to afford PM.
I don’t think so. It is just that it requires people to the management to step back from day to day functioning and look longer term.

What kind of differences have you found between an Indian versus international environment for PM?
The biggest difference you find culturally from Indian perspective is the amount of time people spend on planning. In India, as long as basic schedule is ready, people want to get in implementation, not realising there are many areas one needs to explore, understand, plan make contingencies and then move forward.

Do you think that user training is an essential part of an infrastructure project, irrespective of what a project is?
It’s time developers identify users as part of the stakeholder community. DMRC in Delhi planned well to identify alternative roads, even planned to clean up muddy trucks as they came out of tunnels.

PMI is a leading not-for-profit membership association for the project management profession. PMI’s worldwide advocacy for project management is reinforced by its globally recognised standards and certification programme, extensive academic and market research programmes, chapters and communities of practice, and professional development opportunities.

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