Project Management in India – Challenges in New Delhi


This is a repost of an article published at Linked.

Recently I wrote about project management in Macau and how different it is within its constraints of being in a tight labor market. Today I will highlight something completely opposite: Project Management in India and its challenges.

Transportation is a nightmare. In contrary to China, who is developing highways, railways and airports en masse, India’s transportation infrastructure is a nightmare. Delivering of goods from one city to another can take a considerable longer time than one is used to from Europe, the US or China. As an example a 400 kilometer drive from New Delhi along the National Highway towards the North took me 8 hours as the ‘National Highway’ was either a construction site or a heavily damaged two lane road full of trucks, cows and horse carriages. Also inner-city traffic is horrible with my daily commute from office to home taking up to an hour for a distance somewhere else covered within 20 minutes. Anyone who has visited Mumbai in recent years knows what I am talking about. In addition to the general traffic situation, customs and customs clearance will take longer than expected. During my own time over there I had to experience that imported goods were lost at airport and the local airport cargo manager requested for a special “expediting search fee” to find our cargo. Naturally we refused and as such were only able to get our cargo to customs clearance 4 days later.

Labor is readily available … India is one of the most populated countries in the world and as such there are millions of poor and unemployed labors on the streets that will take any job on a daily or hourly basis. The local economies are tailored towards this abundance of labor and you will see young men gathered around “chai wala” (tea street vendors) waiting for someone to approach them with a task. Minimum wages in New Delhi were low (as shown below) and as such every task that could be done by oneself, such as picking up copies from the printer or washing dishes or connecting a cable, is being outsourced to a cheaper labor. Field commissioning engineers would not touch cat 6 cables in my presence without their manual labor doing all the physical work for them. As such, quality and workmanship suffer.

… except if you need qualified ones. With abundance of labor an abundance of colleges and tertiary schools opened in India, calling themselves “Engineering Colleges” or “XXX of Technology”. Quality of education is poor at many of them, with teachers being employed on an hourly basis to deliver lectures and certificates in parts being faked. Henceforth with whomever you employ or with whomever you are working with in India, it is better to put forward a simple and brief test of qualifications. In my own time I experienced engineers who were not able to read simple drawings or administrative officials not knowing the principle rules of their area. As frustrating as it is, the important rule is to understand who has which skills and who has the potential in your team to be trained into the required position.

Red tape and paperwork. I just would like to highlight two sentences I heard in India during either meetings or discussions with officials: “you can only kill a paper with paper” and “we don’t trust in words, we trust in paper”. The basic meaning behind these statements is that the written word has a lot of power and contracts are often read word-by-word and followed word-by-word. With the advent of sophisticated rail and metro systems in India, whole contracts were imported and adapted to the local requirements, e.g. from Hongkong, yet the way they are being executed is a totally different one from the way the contracts were intended to. This can lead to ridiculous long amounts of time wasted to fulfill requirements for the requirements sake without actual benefit to either contractual party. A classic example I encountered is that a number of British or American standards and norms were copied into a particular contract, either out of convenience or to satisfy the need to have “state of the art” requirements. These standards however were not applicable in the least to the works to be executed. Instead of a simple disregard, e.g. via formal letter or informal meeting, a lengthy process had to be undertaken involving several consultants and experts to ensure that enough “paper” had been produced to “kill” the contract requirement, i.e. to somehow be able to say that “yes, this requirement has been fulfilled”. A lengthy process wasting man hours for both engineering and managerial staff.

Pollution, dust and lack of understanding. Having worked in an electronic industry, the need for a clean and dust-free environment is a necessity that often enough decides about the lifetime of expensive equipment. India’s ecological record is not the best and whereas China is often in the news on their PM 2.5 levels, New Delhi or other parts of India could have made the headlines at least as often. I have seen data centers with centimeters of dust on equipment racks, dead rats inside of fiber optic equipment housings, animals freely running around in operation centers, household air condition units (with overflowing condensate drains) above 100 thousand euro computer units and computers dying within a year or two of operation due to clogging and lack of filter cleaning. Provision of heavy duty equipment is definitely a wise choice, yet from own experience counterproductive in this highly price-sensitive market. Better invest in two or three additional site supervisors with cameras that take records of all non-compliant situations at site as basis of warranty voidance and claim for additional money against faulty equipment.

Intercultural understanding. With the above constraints taken into account, one of the biggest challenges in India is the intercultural misunderstandings that will happen between Western (or Eastern) and Indian mentalities. With the caste system being a very strong subconscious force, high poverty and un-education levels, multiple religions and sects as well as an upbringing totally different from other countries, one needs tolerance and patience to succeed in this area of the world. Asking the right question in the right way has proven very successful for me. Example given, instead of asking “Have you completed this list?” one should say “Yesterday I asked you to make a list, please show it to me now”. In the first instance the initial reaction most likely would be a “yes” whereas in the second instance, the answer is forced to be either a “here it is” or “I haven’t done that yet” (in which case you can give an immediate new deadline).

As said in the beginning and in my last post, I probably could write a whole book about the challenges one encounters and how to tackle them. I invite everyone who would like to know more to either leave me a comment here or contact me at MLVONSCHAPER AT YAHOO DOT DE.


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