Future 50
A New Generation of Leaders Arrives

For helping untangle data and complexity

Mountains of data don’t faze Sitanshu Dash. And he tries to make sure his clients feel the same way. He and his team at Adobe work on projects designed to help organizations more easily sort through information—which in a world of AI and cloud infrastructure is easier said than done. 

“Analytical platforms for enterprises tend to be very complex and have a lot of upstream and downstream dependencies and processes feeding into them, and they’re often at the heart of a lot of critical functions,” Dash says. 

Things don’t always go as expected, of course, which is why he emphasizes that project leaders need to go in armed with a backup plan—or plans—to handle last-minute changes or conflicts of interest among the project stakeholders. 

“It’s important to have the mental fortitude to take setbacks in stride and have the confidence to fall back on your plan B and plan C. Always trust the process will get you through.”

Q&A: Sitanshu Dash on “the greatest project ever,” AI and trust

What project in the world most influenced you personally?

The vaccine that eradicated smallpox. This was a project spearheaded by the World Health Organization from 1966 to 1977 during which the whole world was vaccinated, and as a result one of the oldest most destructive diseases in the world now only exits in laboratories. Imagine a world that had only come out of one of the most destructive conflicts in human history two decades prior—imperial rule had just about ended and a lot of nations had just gained their independence. It’s a daunting task even by today’s standards. For the sheer complexity and scale of this exercise and the impact it had on quality of life universally, this was in my opinion the greatest project ever undertaken by humanity. 

What’s your philosophy for leading projects?

The devil is always in the details. There’s a tendency to see things at a very high level and not understand the ground level. We need to check in with the people in the trenches and trust their judgement and experience.

How are young people changing the world of projects?

One of the biggest criticisms of young people is their restlessness and impatience. In the world of project management, I have seen young managers channel this restlessness to try new creative ways to fix problems and not patiently wait for the status quo to resolve itself. There’s so much information at your fingertips to fuel great innovation and overcome obstacles. It only needs to be tempered by pragmatism and guided by prioritization of tasks at hand.

What’s the one must-have skill to succeed in The Project Economy?

The ability to adapt to change quickly and learn from the trends affecting other business and verticals. Case in point: The COVID-19 crisis. If you’re a bank focusing on a marketing campaign for travel or tourism, then it would be great to look at an alternative product to roll out, like a personal loan for buying work-from-home supplies from your partner outlets or offering more points on a credit card for spending on online food-delivery portals or on video-streaming platforms. Crisis also presents an opportunity to step up and do the right thing. A lot of companies have adapted their manufacturing line to start making N95 masks for heroes like doctors and delivery professionals and sanitation workers.

What’s one way managing projects will have changed by 2030?

Automation will be the biggest change, and it will be powered by AI. Tasks like project and resource planning will be the first things to get automated—follow-ups on deliverables, escalation for non-compliance and updates to various stakeholders about project status. The role of project managers will change to mediate during conflict resolution and to deal with unforeseen circumstances or crisis situations.

What famous or historic person would you want on your project team?

A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, the 11th president of India and the project director of India’s first satellite launch vehicle and countless other projects. He taught the world that a “Third World nation” could also dare to dream and lay its claim beyond our earthly realm, among the stars. He believed that great managers always own failures but only true leaders share the accolades of success with their team.