Make Reality - Questions with Tanya Elizabeth Ken

F 50 2021 Honoree Tanya Elizabeth Ken Headshot

Tanya Elizabeth Ken recognized technology’s potential to drive positive change at a very young age, founding the Chennai, India-based firm LakshyaShala Edutech. The LakshyaShala app she designed as a teen connects underserved students with professionals in their field of interest who can answer questions and help them chart their career goals (lakshya means goal).

Speaking to PMI during the Virtual Experience Series (VES), Ken, a PMI Future 50 honoree, explained how her early success in the Technovation Challenge led to collaborative efforts to expand her work. She shared how she hopes to build on her achievements to make her moonshot idea reality in this exclusive interview for PM Network®.

PMI: When did you first realize the importance of project management skills?

Ken: In 2017, when I was in eighth grade, I participated in a global tech convention competition [Technovation Girls] where I presented my app LakshyaShala. The mission of equality in education is very close to my heart. And, in spite of all the federally provided farm education and schooling in India, I felt there was room to make an impact. So, with the seed fund I won from the competition, I registered my app as LakshyaShala EduTech Private Limited, a nongovernment organization (NGO) with the mission of equality in education. Since I did not have the luxury of forming my own team, I had to reach out to people and ask whether they would work with us on a pro bono basis. Fortunately, several of our contacts were able to embrace the mission and came forward to work with us. It was while I was managing this team that I understood the importance of project management. I found it really challenging because I had not had any prior knowledge or exposure to project management. And that’s what really made me understand that project management skills are required no matter what domain you work in.

PMI: What is the most challenging project you're managing right now?

Ken: If you had asked me this question before the pandemic my answer would have been completely different. Looking at the situation right now—companies are restructuring, downsizing and cutting salaries, so social impact initiatives are not their priority. So, my main priority right now is to create a project or revive an existing project to help us generate revenue. In project management terms, it's a matter of adaptability.

PMI: What's the most significant project you've ever worked on?

Ken: From a founder's perspective, my primary goal is setting our mission. I need to ensure that all of our projects go hand in hand and work together to achieve this mission—and all of them are equally significant. In project management, it's important to make the team see the big picture and understand how each team's projects are dependent on each other to achieve the desired goals. Basically, I'm trying to stress that all of these projects work together toward achieving the mission, just like how organs in our body work together.

PMI: While you were working on launching LakshyaShala, what was the key lesson that you learned?

Ken: The key lesson I learned while executing this project is that our goals and mission should never be static, because the needs of the end user are constantly changing. And it's important for us to understand the changing needs of our customers and their pain points. If we don't do that, our competitors will.

PMI: What's one piece of advice you would like to share with the project management community to help them manage projects better?

Ken: Ask your teammate or team member to describe the most happy customer.
If your teammate can describe the most happy customer, you can rest assured that they can bridge the gap between the current reality and the projected goals.

PMI: What is one project where you were able to demonstrate agility?

Ken: I am a student ambassador and mentor for Technovation. Baton, a recent winner of the junior division at Technovation Girls, is a social worker empowerment app that supports a unique “baton” handover process designed to ensure optimal social impact. It was really exciting when the head of the Department of Social Work at Stella Maris College in Chennai came forward to help launch Baton to the social work students. But a problem developed when we noticed that we weren't catering exactly to the needs of our stakeholders. The team and I had a very short period of time in which to execute this project, to produce a project plan, and we had to optimize and restructure our module to ensure we could give them the best results possible. Our team demonstrated great agility to meet the situation.

PMI: What is your moonshot idea that you would love to assemble a team around and make reality?

Ken: Goal shadowing would be my moonshot idea. Goal shadowing connects two children with similar career goals. A student from the underserved community, with the help of NGOs and social workers, is paired with a student from a more supportive environment so they can achieve their goals through a process called task mirroring. Most of the parents in the underserved community are daily wage workers and uneducated, so they don’t have the necessary skills to guide their child. Combined with Baton, the social worker empowerment app, it will enable social workers to reinforce the role of the parents. Baton complements goal shadowing and vice versa. One project would not be able to survive without the other. So, if you ask me for a moonshot idea, it would be the unified, complementary model that connects all the projects and modules together.

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