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'India needs more qualified project managers'

Q&A: Gregory Balestrero

Amit Ranjan Rai  |  New Delhi 

Businesses are so much about managing projects, aren't they? Unlike processes or operations, which are more or less permanent functional work to produce the same product or service, projects have a finite characteristic. They are endeavours with set beginnings and ends, and clearly defined outcomes. And so, experts say, those who manage projects need to be trained differently "" with a different set of tools, skills and processes than, say, taught at B-schools. The US-based Project Institute (PMI), with more than 260,000 members in over 171 countries, is a leading not-for-profit association for the project profession. PMI develops standards, actively researches, and provides education and certification in the field of project PMI's CEO Gregory Balestrero, who was recently in India to inaugurate its Mumbai office, spoke with Amit Ranjan Rai on the need for trained professionals in project management and its overall relevance for businesses. Excerpts:

What is project management all about? How different is it from managing everyday functions and operations?

When we talk about projects, it means a series of clearly-defined activities where you add resources and value to get a clear output "" a well-defined product or service. What we are advocating here is somewhat different from what many managers or companies may think of managing projects.

One of our objectives is to make sure that projects can be managed in the same way, with the same predictability, and the same consistency. In other words, say, if you put in your papers, the new project manager who replaces you, should be able to deliver the same performance and results, in the same way you were supposed to.

The problem is that even if managers think similarly about managing projects, they don't manage it the same way, or deliver the same expected output. For instance, take the case of Delhi Metro Rail Corporation MD E Shreedharan. It quite well known that when he is incharge of a project, he delivers the results on time, on budget and of worldclass standards. Imagine, if he is replaced with someone else, would the new person be able to deliver same quality results, on time and on budget?

So what PMI tries to do is provide standards which are commonly expected approaches to managing projects around the world. We help train managers and organisations with these standards, approaches and skills, and provide certifications through examinations, which show that they are trained project management professionals. So we're about helping them deliver better business results, predictably and consistently.

How different is what you are advocating here from management training at B-schools?

One of the key aspects of any management programme is to understand the functions of management "" human resource development, marketing, production, manufacturing, sales, forecasting and so on. An understanding of all these is important. But what project management brings to the table, is how to manage change within an organisation.

You can look at a financial report and say the company's made enough money and has enough reserves. But in case, you are going to change the entire benefit system of the organisation "" say, provide better healthcare or life insurance for all your employees, and do that within three months, that's a big change project.

Take the case of the Tatas manufacturing the Nano. Now, that's a major change project. They have the performance and the cost of the vehicle defined. To add the materials and components, invest in a workforce, plant and so on, to manufacture the Nano on an ongoing basis, that is a strategic change.

How to manage this change? Project management covers all such aspects. It's a lot about creating a new mindsets. The major difference in what management schools teach you and is what project management looks at is the output "" a clearly defined outcome.

How important is project management education in the Indian context?

Let me give you two examples.

One sector that's been fuelling India's growth process has been IT. IT companies here "" a number of them are expatriate companies, such as IBM, Microsoft and so on "" are expected to a display a certain level of performance and standard to their clients abroad. Managers working with many of these companies are trained in the discipline of excellence in project management.

There are able to deliver what is expected out of them, because of their training in the discipline, and our certifications establishes their credibility to meet certain standards. IBM, for instance, started with 5,000 employees in India five years ago, and now they have over 80,000. The reason they have managed such a growth is because of their superior performance in managing projects.

On the other hand, take the case of infrastructure in the country. The Economic Survey this year shows that over 260 infrastructure-related projects are behind schedule "" about 80 related to roads. Now, roads are so critical to the overall growth process. Infrastructure projects lack predictability, they are behind schedule and because of that costs are over-shooting. We are thus strongly advocating excellence in project management at the government level.

A lot of Indian companies are trying to get a global footprint. How can project management help here?

The global workspace is a very complicated one and India is already a part of the global supply chain. If you look at the aerospace manufacturing industry here, it is manufacturing parts and supplies for aircraft built all over the world. So they need to have an equal quality standards in the way they manage projects.

IBM wouldn't have built a team over 80,000 professionals, if its India centre was not able to deliver the standards required by its global clients. So companies here need to follow global standards and India certainly needs a lot more qualified project managers.

Every management book or guru is today talking of innovation or creating niche markets. Does project management help innovation cycles?

Edison, who invented electricity, said invention is 1 per cent inspiration, and 99 per cent perspiration. What he meant is that the creative aspect is critical. IBM, Siemens or Infosys, all have creative people, and they can create an idea for a product or service that is unique and special. But what will make that product competitive in the marketplace is the ability to market and to deliver that product on time and under budget.

For instance, Nokia released a particular model of its smart phone with innovative features, in the December holiday season. It was released on December 1 and by January 15, the company was already making profits on its sales. Another competitor with a similar product could not release it until January, and it was never able to recover the costs.

Now the difference here is that of excellence in project management that Nokia follows and its competitor doesn't. Nokia was disciplined, its managers knew they had to deliver a great product, on time and within budget. So they went with the innovation and product development process and overlaid it with project management, and delivered the expected results.

First Published: Tue, April 29 2008. 00:00 IST