Five Impediments in managing large projects in India.

(Excerpts from N.R. Narayana Murthy’s address at PMI National Conference at Blr 2011)

 Addressing the PMI National Conference held in Bangalore recently, Mr. N.R. Narayana Murthy (Chairman Emertius, Infosys) touched on some of the points that make it difficult to manage large projects in India. He outlined five major cultural impediments in this aspect:

  1.  Lack of Discipline: As a culture, we often lack the discipline required to work as a team and as a society. This is demonstrated in many ways including the way in which we drive our automobiles, the way we plan things and the way we tend to execute projects.
  2. Oral Culture : Another cultural impediment is with our discomfort with things in writing. We tend to talk about things, but when it comes to written agreements, commitments we tend to be very defensive. The oral culture also manifests in our limitations in creating knowledge systems where the learnings from the past are recorded and form the basis for future development.
  3. Reticent to losing face: As a country, we often are very reticent about losing our face. This manifests in our difficulty in accepting our lacunas and learning from them. We also have a tendency to cover up on mistakes to avoid losing face.
  4. Comfort with Vagueness, Aversion to Data: As a nation, we are more comfortable with an element of vagueness, rather than preciseness. This leads to an aversion to collect, evaluate and process data. Without relevant data, the objectivity is lost and things are done with an element of subjectivity with adds to vagueness.
  5. Hierarchy as means to violate agreed norms: The last is more a behavioral aspect where in the people higher in hierarchical chain feel that they can violate norms. The higher the person the more norms he/she can violate.

NRN advised project managers and leaders to be aware of these 5 cultural impediments that are required to be overcome to ensure that projects are successful in the Indian scenario. He also outlined some tips that might help to overcome these impediments.

  1.  Lead by Example: The onus is on leaders and managers to adhere to discipline, be open to feedback, to avoid the tendency to violate the norms. Also, leaders need to bring in objectivity as critical element of the project. Such steps help them set an example for others to follow.
  2. Accept limitations, Wrong Decisions, Failures: One of the key to success is to start accepting limitations of individuals and understanding that success and failure are all part of the same coin. Similarly, it is also important to understand that occasionally decision makers can get their decisions wrong and it is not right to penalize every wrong decision. What is more important is to derive data and facts from such instances to build the requisite skills to avoid failures and wrong decisions going forward.
  3. Incentives to people practicing the best practices: Though most companies reward people for innovation or success in projects, very few companies really reward people for practicing, championing and enforcing the company culture, values and processes. It is necessary for leaders and organizations to recognize people who go beyond cultural impediments and reward them to set the right tone.
  4. Ability to articulate a Vision: To overcome the Oral Culture, it is very important for leaders to be articulate about their vision. This articulation has to be constant and consistent till the message is delivered and embraced completely.

C.V. Ram Narayanan Sastry, PMP


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