Project Management Institute

Rebirth of a nation

River Ganges, Varanasi, India

River Ganges, Varanasi, India

Best of Congress Papers

by Marcia Jedd

The article is based on material in the white paper “The Role of Project Management in Transforming a Nation from Developing to Developed Status: The Case of India Vision 2020,” presented by Raju Rao, PMP, at PMI Global Congress 2006–Asia-Pacific in Bangkok, Thailand.

Boasting an annual economic growth rate of about eight percent, India is generating big buzz in business circles. The country has emerged as a cost-effective outsourcing solution for everything from IT to engineering. And tourists flock here not only to check out the cultural sites, but to search for less expensive medical treatments.

India is determined to exploit that potential even further through organizational project management. A massive web of individuals and groups have joined together to ensure it captures opportunities to improve the country and its position in the global marketplace.

“There are people doing their own thing in their own interests, but those interests can be aligned toward a common one,” says James Abraham, vice president and director of Boston Consulting Group (BCG), New Delhi, India.


The most crucial part for connecting projects to strategic intent for a nation will be formulation of programs with clear objectives.

—Raju Rao, PMP, Xtraplus Solutions, Chennai, India

Along with BCG, the key players include the All India Management Association (AIMA), the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and the government of India. Mr. Abraham teamed up with AIMA's High-Level Strategic Group (HLSG) of 27 business and academic leaders for a February 2003 report called “India's New Opportunity 2020.”

The report identified three major areas of action:

1. Build the communications infrastructure

2. Market India to change perceptions

3. Accelerate the reach and richness of education.

Strategic Vision

The India-improvement efforts are on the right track, says Raju Rao, PMP, director and founder of Xtraplus Solutions, a Chennai, India-based project management consultancy. He has studied the 2020 report and similar papers extensively to understand “the role of project management in achieving the strategic vision of a nation,” he says.

Formulating a vision with clear objectives and outcomes in business terms is half the battle to developing a program initiative, particularly for large, broad-scale social projects, he says. “What normally happens in these projects is that it's very difficult to make decisions because their outcome has to be measured by social rather than business parameters,” Mr. Rao says. “You need to work with the fuzzy front-end where the lack of clarity in identifying requirements and knowledge about a situation at the operational level is frequently not taken into account.”

Mr. Rao also applied the concept of strategic intent to the 2020 findings. As outlined by authors C.K. Prahalad and Gary Hamel in Competing for the Future [Tata McGraw-Hill, 2002], strategic intent can help organizations achieve their goals through a sense of direction, discovery and destiny. The authors base their theory, in part, on the dramatic post-war ascent that Japanese companies made to dominate world markets.

Using strategic intent works well in cases where there is a disconnect between resources and aspirations, Mr. Rao says. “This is very much evident in India as there's a substantial gap between where we are today compared to where we would like to reach.” However, he points out there are differences and challenges in applying strategic intent to a nation versus an organization. “The most crucial part for connecting projects to strategic intent for a nation will be formulation of programs with clear objectives,” he says.

That's where the three strategic action points outlined in the report come into play. The HLSG identified numerous opportunities tied to these three areas, which were prioritized for action.

Supply and Demand

The All India Management Association's High-Level Strategic Group identified key areas for action at the macro level to boost supply and demand for India's services.

To Build Demand On the Supply Side

Strengthen India's image as a brand that's reliable, safe, a value for the money and tourist-friendly

Focus marketing on select countries with select services

Build credibility with customers through partnerships

Promote acceptability of the offshore concept

Improve the service experience for inbound tourism

Invest in promoting trials to induce individuals and corporations to sample services and enable business models, such as initial free medical advice.

Develop domain expertise in specific areas, such as courseware design and change management for an e-learning firm

Reform the education and training sectors to increase base of skilled professionals

Strengthen connectivity infrastructure (telecom, IT, airports) for inbound tourism

Promote public-private partnerships

Form interest groups around opportunities

Align regulatory policies to facilitate opportunity realization.

India's large population of educated youth puts it in prime position to provide a host of services to other countries, according to the 2020 report. It estimates up to 40 million new jobs and $200 billion in annual revenues could be generated from a host of service sectors, including remote engineering, health and heritage tourism, business processing outsourcing and do-it-yourself support.

These services fall into two broad categories:

  • Professional services provided remotely from India: IT and IT-enabled services, telemedicine and e-learning
  • Customers serviced in India: Leisure tourism and special-service tourism, such as healthcare and education services.

“India can accelerate its economic growth and mitigate the unemployment problem forecast for the coming decades by seizing a huge opportunity provided by a combination of global developments in industry, trade and demographics,” Mr. Abraham says.

The HLSG took significant time to understand why India, despite its knowledge of what needs to be done, often fails to make things happen, he says. “The lack of speed was generally the result of an implementation model that enforces compliance, rather than obtains commitment, the power of which stakeholders can use to obtain a desired outcome,” he says. “The HLSG took a path to create and guide the process of involvement and action, using the report as a stimulus to obtain commitment from stakeholders.”

Ultimately, the vision defined in the India 2020 report isn't unfolding per a set plan. Rather, the lack of plan is part of the plan. “We didn't get into a specific plan of action,” Mr. Abraham says. “Instead we laid out a large aspiration, showing the gap or opportunity. It's not a traditional approach to project management because it's not hierarchical. It's parallel processing with completely dispersed groups.”


India is a nation of approximately 1.1 billion people, the world's largest democracy and home to some of the most educated people in the world.

A Model India

Advanced project management concepts can be applied to fill in a framework for developing programs and initiatives in India, Mr. Rao says.

“Most studies or reports stop with formulating a vision or action areas or guiding principles,” he says. “We still need a structured approach to help implement the vision.” This is where organizational project management models from Japan and PMI's Organizational Project Management Maturity Model (OPM3®) play a role.

The program initiative involves several steps:

1. Generate the program idea

2. Identify the stakeholders

3. Arrive at a consensus on a preliminary program definition

4. Form a program charter

5. Develop preliminary program plans

6. Secure funding

7. Appoint a director or group leadership.

Of the lines of action outlined in the 2020 report—infrastructure, marketing and education—Mr. Abraham says education is the most troublesome. The country is still in the throes of identifying all the stakeholders and forming a program definition. India is a nation of approximately 1.1 billion people, the world's largest democracy and home to some of the most educated people in the world. However, educational access and quality are inconsistent across the country, and HLSG has called for improvement. “That element needs to be in the portfolio,” Mr. Abraham says.

“We are especially concerned about primary and secondary school education because these are the children who will enter the workforce in 2020,” he says. Another goal is lowering the rate of illiteracy.

One bright spot is a government-imposed two percent surcharge on the tax base for an education fund that currently sits unused. “There's opportunity there to use that fund to get large-scale education reach,” Mr. Abraham says.

Building Brand Equity

On the marketing side, BCG and CII have formed the India Brand Equity Foundation (IBEF), a not-for-profit organization working to define and promote the India brand. “Over the past few years, IBEF has developed a unique brand position for India and connected with opinion makers, which has influenced the marketing of India,” Mr. Abraham says.

“One of our biggest concerns was the perception of India abroad. CEOs had a poor vision of India. Now, it's a hot investment,” he says. “Two to three years ago, it was exactly the opposite.”

IBEF gathered Indian business executives who frequently sell India as a destination for manufacturing outsourcing. “These people attend trade fairs all over the world, and most had different messages of India. We got a group together and said, ‘Let's define what India is,’ so each could promote it in their own way but with a more cohesive message,” Mr. Abraham says.

Of the three areas marked for improvement, the communications infrastructure is the farthest along, he says. The spread of telecommunications is quite pervasive. In fact, India has added some five million mobile subscribers in each of the first three months of this year, surpassing China's monthly rate. The next wave is focused on broadband technologies, which are considered essential to better connect the disparate parts of India and serve as a distribution channel for education.


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One of our biggest concerns was the perception of India abroad. CEOs had a poor vision of India. Now, it's a hot investment.

—James Abraham, Boston Consulting Group, New Delhi, India

The concept of strategic intent goes far in the case of India, according to Mr. Abraham. “But it's only a direction because there is a dissonance with the current reality,” he says. “You create a dissonance so people work toward the gap. Dissonance really is creative energy.”

Mr. Abraham describes a quickening beginning to take hold as India strives to reach its 2020 vision. Now that the intent has been formally broadcast to a number of industry groups, government organizations and business leaders with direct interests in India, the seeds are rooted. “If you get the right people and right focus,” he says, “it starts to have a life all of its own.” PM

Marcia Jedd is a Minneapolis, Minn., USA-based supply chain and business writer.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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