Thursday, August 28, 2008

E.Sreedharan - the undisputed guru of Project Management

Dr. E.Sreedharan – MD –Delhi Metro
-    Railway Minister's Award (1963)
-    Padma Shri by the Government of India (2001)
-    Man of the Year by The Times of India (2002)
-    Shri Om Prakash Bhasin Award for professional excellence in engineering (2002)
-    CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) Juror's Award for leadership in infrastructure development (2002-03)
-    One of Asia's Heroes by TIME (2003)
-    AIMA (All India Management Association) award for Public Service Excellence (2003)
-    Degree of Doctor of Science (Honoris causa) from IIT Delhi.
-    Bharat Shiromani award from the Shiromani Institute, Chandigarh (2005)
-    Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur (Knight of the Legion of Honour) by the government of France (2005)
-    CNN-IBN Indian Of the Year 2007: Public Service (2008)
-    Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India (2008)
-    Champion of Project Management in India - The Project Management Institute, Inc (PMI) (2008)

It was more than a year back, a beautiful cottage in the back drop of Chamundi hills in Mysore was witnessing serious discussions on various Project Management topics. ‘PRS Calm’ , a common conferencing resort for my previous company was the venue for ‘Advanced Project Management Training’ by a PMI REP from Delhi – PMAC. We were lucky to have Mr.Chaudhary , Director of PMAC, itself as the trainer. He used to introduce funny stories and snippets from his past experiences in the so called ‘Boring’ PMBOK elaboration!
Among one of such elevated moments he made a pause, came out from the podium and stood very near to the front row, holding the table.
“If I touch anyone’s feet in respect of PM expertise, that would be none other than Mr. E.Sreedharan!” – was Mr.Chaudhary emotional?

Hey! Hold on , I know this man. I have heard a lot about him from the media. Only that much? Come on, you know him better. He is from your native village. Your family knows his family very well. He gave scholarship to you when you stood top in the school. He wrote a letter to you congratulating your achievement… and you replied to that…. He surprised you by promptly replying to your letter, a letter written by ‘Malayalam medium – Sarkaari School going’ student. He circled the spelling mistakes in my letter by red pen and wrote comments above. He took time to write a beautiful inspiring reply to me. It was then I have placed him in my mind as my hero, my mentor, my icon! (But, sorry sir, I still make spelling mistakes , but thanks to MS Word spell checker! - I am managing somehow !)

I have kept those letters among my best treasures. When I look at them even now, I feel proud. He asked me to keep in touch and let him know about the progress of my education and career. No pardon for me – I didn’t keep that promise and I am sorry for that!

This happened 12 years ago and I really don’t know whether he remember me or this incident! After so many years I had a chat with Mr.Adigal who is a friend of my dad and a close associate of Mr.Sreedharan. I told him about this and he asked me to come over and meet him so that he can arrange a meeting with Mr.Sreedharan. How ever I couldn’t visit Delhi after that.
Now my next Delhi visit will have surely this item on top of my agenda and I hope I can meet him then!

This space is not enough to discuss about his achievements in the field of Project Management. But I would say that he has realised certain dreams which any project manager in this world might have dreamt of ! – and yes, he did that many times !

Completing multi billion public sector projects in the most challenging environments (Which every one wrote off as impossible!) several months ahead of schedule with in budget and with out compromising quality or performance. Any one who travel through the western coastal area of India will see the magnificent project – Konkan Railway , constructed successfully by tackling all challenges brought in by nature. Any project manager would have backed off, dishearten seeing the obstacles placed by nature all the way. Is anybody in India capable doing what he did in Delhi? How many Delhi-ites knew what was happening under the foot path or city roads of busy Delhi?   One of the most magnificent projects of India was progressing silently under the neatly covered areas beside busy roads.

A google search on his name resulted about 150,000 pages! Just look at some of the interesting links:
(The contents may get altered by the respective web administrators or bloggers. PM Karma is not responsible for contents of external websites)

You are the inspiration for young PM professionals and gift to the Indians who would like to see some hope in the allegedly corrupted and severely mismanaged Public sector projects!
Hats off to the real hero of project management!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Lean Construction: Forceful application of JIT & TQC into the construction industry?

'Lean Construction' is one of the latest buzzwords in the construction project management. What is 'Lean construction' ? Is it building structures which 'lean' in some angle like 'Tower of Pisa' ? Or , is it making tall and slim structures like 'Burj Al Arab' in Dubai ? Lets discuss what 'Lean Construction' is all about, its evolution and present status. I would also like to do a critical review of this philosophy in terms of its effectiveness & relevance.

Where JIT , TQC and lean manufacturing are originated?

All these philosophies originated in controlled environments were activities and scenarios are repetitive and more ‘predictable’. The basic concept of all these philosophies is process quality improvement by eliminating waste (Manpower, time & materials). These philosophies are applied on the conventional manufacturing process of Raw material passing through a process and get converted into a finished product. The following are more or less known and are fixed:

1) Available manpower, their skill level
2) Availability of raw materials (Known in advance & mostly stored in advance)
3) Work environment (Closed and mostly fixed)
4) Scope (End product is clearly defined and there are hardly any in process changes)

Micro planning and time-motion study analysis are very popular in industries which follow such production philosophies. Each minute/small action is subjected to critic and ways are sought to reduce the cycle time / execution time. Lay out of the plant is revised and finally optimized for a product or set of product to minimize production time. Read all these in conjunction with the fact that Japanese are hard workers (or allegedly workaholic!)

Such production philosophies found instant success in many mechanical production companies, especially Automobile industry. Most of these Japanese production philosophies heavily banked up on the repeatability of the job being carried out.

The star of the Japanese production philosophy is none other than TOYOTA. Many people celebrated its success and competitors envied. Industries outside of car manufacturing also started thinking about implementing same / similar philosophies in their production facilities.Many companies successfully implemented these techniques and benefited.

It was then, Mr.Lauri Koskela a researcher at VTT building technology-Finland , came up with an idea of extending the much celebrated ‘Japanese Production Philosophies’ into rather ‘unorganized’ construction industry in a seminar which was presented in 1999-2000 period.

He argued that the conventional construction project management is useless / insufficient and the CPM / networking methodologies do not represent the actual work. Major argument used by him in defense of the much established network scheduling based on CPM was , it does not cover many sub activities like waiting, moving and checking which consume considerable amount of manhours. 90% of the paper Mr.Koskela is talking about the definition and evolution of Japanese productions philosophies (JIT, TQC,TQM, Continuous improvement ..etc) in the manufacturing industry. Towards middle of the paper he is starting to talk about the construction industry and possibilities of implementing the Japanese productions philosophies in that.

I am not going in-depth review of his paper, which you may access online.
How ever this paper attracted huge attention in the industry and resulted in the origin or a new terminology ‘Lean construction’!

This gave birth to a new organization ‘Lean Construction Institute’ , a non-profit research organization in 1997. The founders were Mr.Glenn Ballard and Mr. Greg Howell who are considered to be pioneers in this philosophy.

LCI has generally been observed as a critic to, much established PMI (Project Management Institute). How ever, while PMI is being aggressively engaged in spreading its philosophies globally through creation of standards, education and certification, LCI is yet to make a good impact in the construction industry.

Generally all will agree to the fact that ,certain facets of Japanese production philosophies are directly applicable anywhere, which includes good house keeping and reduction of waste (Time & resources). But scrapping the age old project management philosophies followed in construction along with much established CPM –networking method does not seem to be very easy unless the ‘Lean Camp’ is able to convince construction professionals with the shortcomings of the existing methodologies.

So , where I am standing in the debate ?

Well, I feel the ‘Lean’ methodology is more ‘Micro planning’. Typically the number of activities involved in a construction project of decent size is millions! Spending time on tweaking & optimizing each is nearly impossible. Good hygiene & 5S can be implemented at site. Supervisors can be instructed to plan their activities in more detail in such a way that labour & tools are not idle. Changing the lay out is not very easy since it s ever changing in the construction scenario and the same sequence or ‘cycle of operations’ are not repeated. In construction, at one place, a series of activities happen only once. An area is set up, equipments are installed, piping is connected and other commissioning activities are followed. This area is not again empty for repeating the task. Scope change is also very common phenomena in construction projects. This is because of the fact that micro engineering is not a viable option in construction projects. As the project is progressed changes can be made if it is favorable to the end product.

Each project is unique even if it is a similar kind of plant/facility built before. This is due to the fact that environmental factors changes from project to project. Managers, engineer and labours involved, location, technology, funding, local community influence, government regulations..etc varies from project to project. While millions of identical cars are produced in a car factory, even the leading construction companies might not have done more than 100 projects of similar kind! All these facts write off the possibility of ‘optimizing the flow process’ as done in manufacturing. The only thing can be done is strict supervision and better day to day & weekly planning.

I strongly feel that we should not adapt to some new philosophy in construction just because it was successful in bulk manufacturing. More and more structured planning (Top down approach or ‘progressive elaboration’). That is what we need to enhance in the construction project management. Supervisors are to be equipped with PM concepts and should be able to plan their activities. Also people working in the construction industry are to be more cost oriented apart from being quality & safety conscious. Each and every action must be viewed in a ‘cost’ angle as well. An idle tool or employee is loss of money. Rework will disturb schedule and eventually pull profit down.

It is impossible to define optimized set of actions for construction projects as in manufacturing. We can adopt a philosophy of reducing waste and implementing good house keeping hence reduce idle time and improve safety. It’s all about creating a positive mindset among those who work at site!

Hey pharaohs of Lean please don’t scare poor construction professionals with ‘Hi-Fi’ buzz words. They are working hard and fighting with the harsh environment to make dreams real. They don’t have the security and comfort of a modern machine shop. They are stressed since they have to satisfy the needs of people, technology schedule, cost, quality and safety! Please don’t do ‘Time-motion’ study on them! You may be damaging the ‘Big-Picture’ by doing that!

(The views expressed in this blog are absolutely personal opinions and terminologies used are properties of respective trademark and registration owners. The objective of this article is to have a constructive criticism of Lean Construction philosophy with a stint of humor.You are free to post comments no matter you agree or disagree with my views!)

Lean Construction Institute (LCI) :
Wikipedia :
Lauri Kosklea : Application of new production philosophy to construction

Image courtesy  :

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Thank you for your support!

Dear readers,
 PM karma was launched 1 1/2 months back in the first week of July with an intension of  sharing the bits and pieces of knowledge I have collected in my career through experience and reading. It aimed at collaborating with peoples of similar interests world wide. After 45 days of its existence , I am very happy to announce that it has really gone global. People from almost 23 countries have visited the site in less than 1.5 months ! I think this is a remarkable achievement with out any publicity initiatives or search engine optimisation (SEO).
 Its nothing but your whole hearted support which motivates me for writing more. Well , it also motivates me to do little bit research and reading in my free time to contribute to this blog.
But I am slightly unhappy with the number of comments , which just count 4 ! I would honestly like to know how you feel about my writing and the topics discussed. You can also request for new topics or tag me to comment on something.
Anyway , thanks for coming & do come again !
Cheers !

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Project Manager- Domain Guru or Jack of all trades?

Degree of domain knowledge required for a project manager has remained as an all time favorite topic of debate. Some people argue that, to become a successful project manager, one must possess sound knowledge of all the trades which the project is associated with. They justify this by saying that “How people will obey you or respect your words, if you don’t have a command over the trades you are dealing with. More over how you can direct people to perform certain things and evaluate results of their actions, while your expertise in those trades is below theirs?” The question sounds very logical but before converging to an answer, let’s listen to the other side of the argument.

The opposing party says project manager should only need to possess decent knowledge of the domain he is working with and there is no necessary of mastery over any trade except management. They argue that project manager always operate with domain experts who takes care of the technical know-how’s and his job is just to ensure everything goes well and smooth. This argument sounds very practical.

So what is the verdict? A poll conducted by ‘Planning’, a popular online community for planners and schedulers back the second argument which advocates blend of overall/decent knowledge of the domain and more people management skills.

Majority of people from technical background majors / specializes only on one subject. Nobody will take multiple degrees in various trades and get expertise in all. I bet you have never met a guy with multi disciplinary engineering degree!
So can’t a mechanical engineer project manage a petrochemical project which involves civil, mechanical, process, electrical, instrumentation and IT? The answer is YES! There are many such project managers who manage projects which are multi disciplinary. In fact all the projects are multi disciplinary up to certain extent! Most of the software projects are done for serving other industries which require in depth knowledge of the business process involved in those industries. Take an example for a software application for a financial institution. The project manager can either be a finance guy or a software guy. But most commonly the project manager will be a software guy, with a team of programmers, testers, and ‘Domain experts’. These domain experts will be chosen based on the nature of the target industry and will be sent to the client for studying the requirements. Now it is the project manager’s duty to integrate the need & tools (end user requirements and the software platforms/development tools).

How ever there is no doubt that the project manager requires decent knowledge on the software life cycle and preferably experience in projects of same or similar domain. Previous experience in the similar/ same domain helps to understand the customer requirements better and even advice them to align their requirements to industry standards.

Project is unique by its definition itself. If something is repetitive, it becomes an ‘operation’. Each project may expose the project manager to new technologies or even technical domains. The only way to tackle such scenarios is either to hire domain experts or to get the existing ones trained!

Technology is a vast arena and is ever evolving. So getting mastery over each subject the project touches is nearly impossible. A question that may arise in the reader’s mind in this context will be “Then, what makes a Project manager special from others in the team?”. The answer is: His people skills or ability to getting things done in the right way.

While domain experts and team members manage technology, the project manager integrates all their efforts. He is aware of the technical disciplines involved, but not necessarily an expert in all those. He has got tools / set bench marks for performance review.

In my view the ‘Rank of Expertise’ for various skills required for a project manager falls as listed below: [This is built on an understanding that ‘Project Management’ has got three corner stones, namely Schedule, Cost and Performance.]

Rank No1: People skills

People skills control schedule. Waiving off the ‘Luck’ and un controllable ‘Risk’ factor , schedule concurrence heavily depends on how the project manager liaison with various team members and agencies to get things moving in the right direction. People in the industry generally has got skills, otherwise they can’t survive. But getting the best out of the team members and coordinating individual efforts requires heavy people skills.

Rank No2: Financial know how

Project manager has people to work for him. There are technical experts / engineers who consume resources and take care of the physical things to be done on the project. The project manager is only overseeing their activities. But a project can’t be called as a success if it has got a cost over run. In the industry every action has got a financial angle. The reason of existence of the industry itself is to make profit!

A good project manager must have sound financial knowledge. He must know how to budget, how to monitor the cost and how to control the cash flow!

Rank No3: Technical Know how

A project manager who has got better understanding of the technology he is dealing with will have an edge. He will be better able to source the right talent for his project resulting in a well balanced project team. A good understanding over the technical things will ensure better monitoring of his team members’ performance. Apart from performing the obvious ‘Motivational’ efforts he can mentor technical things too. A technically sound project manager can’t be bluffed by his team members or any outside agency. This also gives him an edge in the financial negotiations with vendors, if involved.

Well, I understand some of the readers may argue that, Technical know how should be pushed to Rank No: 2 , but I have stated enough reasons which justify me to push it back to Rank No: 3 , after the Financial skills !