Project Management Institute

India's Innovation Opportunity

Transcript

STEVE HENDERSHOT

India is at a crossroads: the sort of crucible moment that may determine whether its economy—already one of the world’s largest—can grow fast enough to support its booming population. To not just survive, but thrive, requires new ways of thinking.

ANKUR JAIN

I feel that crises are the most important phase in the life of an individual, the life of an organization and the life of a country, and I feel that innovation typically accelerates in moments of constraints and crises, and we’re living through one. So, I feel that the level of innovation is just accelerating, and everybody’s sort of being forced to think afresh and have been shaken out of the inertia that typically prevents innovation.

NARRATOR

The world is changing fast. And every day, project professionals are turning ideas into reality—delivering value to their organizations and society as a whole. On Projectified® we’ll help you stay on top of the trends and see what’s ahead for The Project Economy—and your career.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

This is Projectified®. I’m Steve Hendershot.

India’s population ranks second globally, behind only China. And the U.N. predicts that India will surpass China by 2027.

That means India’s developing economy has to keep up: A new report from McKinsey suggests the country has to add 90 million nonagricultural jobs in just 10 years. And while the economy was chugging along, prior to COVID-19—on pace to surpass Japan and the U.K. by 2025—the pandemic has hit India especially hard. In September, it was not only registering the highest number of new cases in the world, but that was also double that of the next country on the list, the U.S.

Now it’s hard enough to build a business or execute a project that delivers meaningful value in the middle of a pandemic, not to mention getting that product-market fit just right during a time of exceptional market uncertainty. It’s really not fair to add “supporting your nation’s economy” to the list. But there is that challenge to grow quickly and well, and today we’ll meet a couple of project leaders helping their organizations do just that.

Our sponsor for this episode is PMTraining.com. From live virtual classes to online courses available on demand, PMTraining equips students to earn PMI certifications including the Project Management Professional, or PMP®. And Projectified® listeners are eligible for discounts of up to $400 per class; just enter the link PMTraining.com/podcast.

Today we’re talking with two Indian innovators, one working for the multinational e-commerce giant Amazon and the other an entrepreneur whose company is bringing the global craft-beer trend to India.

We’ll begin with Rachna Singh, IT deployment program manager at Amazon in Bengaluru, India. Rachna told Projectified®’s Hannah Schmidt how the sector is changing and what she thinks lies ahead for India.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
HANNAH SCHMIDT

What’s one of the biggest things that you’ve seen change in IT over the course of your career?

RACHNA SINGH

I would say the change of mindset that we have now. We started as a service provider to the different companies across globes. That was somewhere around, I would say, 2000 to 2010. We were still providing services. Post-2010, I have seen that we have really picked up on establishing ourself as individual companies with new innovative solutions and new products, which are now being accepted by the global competitors.

We have started establishing a footprint across the globe. That’s the major change, the major disruption, which has happened. We now have a real good talent in India. Of course this talent is, again, continuing because we have support from our government where they have started putting up plenty of IITs [Indian Institutes of Technology] and engineering institutes to develop more and more talents.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

You’ve talked a little bit about the innovations and just innovating in general in IT. What innovations are you seeing in the sector now, and what do you hope to see in the future?

RACHNA SINGH

As of now, I would actually take the example of this year, where we really got hit by COVID really bad. The kids were forced to be at home. The education actually got a big hit when it started. Slowly now I see that all the schools have gone online. At the pace at which the schools have picked up and got themselves totally moved into the online platform to provide education to the kids, so that they don’t get impacted by this COVID pandemic, it’s really great. I really see that getting into an online platform is the big win that has happened in India.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

You successfully launched the first relocation of an Amazon delivery station in India with only five hours of downtime—and your team has repeated this process several times since. How do you share lessons learned from projects like this?

RACHNA SINGH

This particular solution of course is a part of our lessons learned documentation which is attached to this project. Apart from this, I’m a part of the learning and development team. So I also host a few learning sessions, 30-minute or 45-minute sessions with the team of our org, and this particular thing would be getting into one of the sessions with all the teams post we complete all the launches. That’s lined up for one of my sessions to the team. That will be recorded and broadcasted across the organization.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

Let’s continue talking about this learning and developing and up-skilling. What skills do you think project professionals need to succeed in the IT sector specifically, but also in The Project Economy overall?

RACHNA SINGH

Being a project manager, I would say there should be three skills which I would like to look in for any project manager. The first one, of course, is the communication, be it verbal or written. The communication should be crisp and clear.

The second one is, of course, the risk management, which is really important because while executing projects, everyone knows, even if it’s a repeated project, there can be any kind of risk which can come up. I would say this should be one of the topmost skill set which everyone should actually rigorously practice.

The third point is, of course, I would say the technical aspects of what you’re doing. Being a project manager and having a bit of technical knowledge will definitely help you to actually run the project successfully. It’s always good to collaborate with the team. It’s always good to say, “I’m a project manager and I just lead the project,” but I would say that every project manager should get involved into the project, try to know the technicalities of the project, not to a level that you get into the shoes of your engineers, but yes, at a level where you can go ahead and represent it to your leadership and the different team members in a layman language so that everyone understands what you’re talking. That can be done only if you have a bit of technical understanding of what is being done.

I would say 60 percent of communication, 20 percent of risk, and then 20 percent of technical knowledge. This would comprise together to give you a complete project management.

HANNAH SCHMIDT

India is home to a large IT sector. What’s your advice to project or program leaders interested in this area?

RACHNA SINGH

If you really like challenges almost every day, IT project management is the best place. You can really disrupt the whole industry with your innovative thought. If you get this one open platform of IT and having project management experience will take you way further. If you really want to explore things, innovate things, disrupt the current situation running on, get into IT. It’s a vast umbrella, a bigger umbrella; you will definitely get many options to fail fast and succeed.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
STEVE HENDERSHOT

Now, let’s turn to a different industry entirely: beer. Craft beer was already a global phenomenon when Ankur Jain started importing beer to India—in fact, Ankur became a beer fan while running a tech company in New York City and spending his happy hours at Brooklyn Brewery. He saw the opportunity to bring craft beer to India and in 2015, backed by investor Sequoia Capital, progressed from importing to launching his own brewery, Bira 91, which now has four production facilities and 500 employees. I asked him about scaling up the company and navigating this challenging season.

MUSICAL TRANSITION
STEVE HENDERSHOT

Let’s set the table here. Tell me about the Indian beer market as you launched Bira 91.

ANKUR JAIN

So I think every generation’s had a different definition of beer the world over, and that’s especially true of India. So somebody who came of age in the ’80s and the ’90s really defined beer as the first national brand that emerged in the country, which was Kingfisher. Somebody who grew up in the 2000s and 2010s came to regard the first international brand as premium, and a lot of these international brands were mass-market beers in the rest of the world, such as Heineken or Budweiser and so on. I think consumers in 2020s want flavor from the beers, and I feel that that’s what’s going to change overall. So, I feel that that trajectory is underway.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Before starting your company, you worked as an importer. To what extent did you have the end in mind when you first started out?

ANKUR JAIN

It’s actually very, very deliberate, and everything that I did while I was importing was with an eye to the ambition that I wanted to start a beer brand of my own and wanted to learn as much as possible about the business, about the various aspects of producing it and manufacturing and selling and distributing it. So, when I started out as an importer, I think I basically started at the end of the supply chain that I felt most comfortable with, which was selling, but through the next four or five years, as I navigated the sector, I made sure that I used every opportunity to visit a brewery, whether it was in Belgium or in India, very productively, and kept on gathering interesting information and insights that really helped me get a fully 360-degree view of the world of beer in a way.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

So once you started Bira 91, initially you used a contract brewer in Belgium. Walk us through how you eventually got production up and running in India.

ANKUR JAIN

Yeah, there were a few challenges. Everything from finding a brewery that could produce good quality beer and that was available because beer is a fairly consolidated business all over the world, but more so in India, and all of the high-quality breweries were pretty much with Heineken or AB InBev and so on. So finding that independent brewer who could partner with us. We found one, but I think it’s fair to say that the brewery was completely dilapidated, so we had a lot of work ahead of us. It took us almost a year, year and a half, to upgrade the brewery so that we could make the beers that we wanted to make in that location. But more than that, finding the skills, and there’s not enough talent in India or the ecosystem’s not mature enough where you could find a craft brewer or even a company that could help produce craft beers very easily. So, we recruited a production brewer from one of the big three companies, and of course he did not have any exposure to craft and using unusual ingredients and so on, and so we had to build that skill set within the company as well.

And I think the third and quite an important aspect of making beers, of course, the ingredients and sourcing the ingredients, and a lot of the ingredients were not readily available in India, so we had to figure out the right sources. It’s fair to say that the first beer that we made is actually a summation of ingredients from four different continents. We actually found that the best orange peel for our wheat beers was not from Spain but from Uruguay. We found that the best coriander for our wheat beer was not from India, which is the largest producer of coriander, but from Ukraine and so on and so forth. So it was interesting and it was arduous looking back. Now it sounds exotic and fun.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

So let’s talk through the last couple of years, just scaling up; what have been the operational challenges and projects you have undertaken to address just larger volume, more employees, just all the challenges that go along with scaling this up and distributing it around the world

ANKUR JAIN

I think multiple challenges, and I think some of the main challenges have been, how do you set processes and systems so that when you have a large organization, everybody from a manufacturing employee downstream is able to benefit from the knowledge of somebody who’s been there, done that before and is able to do exactly the same thing in exactly the same manner repeatedly? Or, when you think about a sales guy, how do you ensure that the refrigerator in the store is stocked in the right manner?

So there’s been a lot of development of systems and processes across functions, and it’s not just developing new processes and systems; it’s also the consequent learning and training. That’s super important when you’re trying to scale up. So I think a lot of our efforts have been around how do you standardize certain aspects of the business. Not all aspects of business, but certain aspects of the business so that we excel in executing on those aspects.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Speaking of cross-functional, you started a new program specifically geared toward cross-training at the company. What was your inspiration there, and how does this program work?

ANKUR JAIN

It’s actually very interesting. The spark really happened a couple of years ago where I found myself taking more decisions than I should, than I ideally should, and I was trying to sort of figure out why is it that I’m able to get to some answers quicker than others on my team? One of the answers that I got, what I thought of was, it’s predominantly because I can understand the business from pretty much every angle and therefore can anticipate what could go wrong if I took a particular decision or what would be the impact on the wider organization or a department that was dependent on that decision. So, I said, “This needs to be replicated. I cannot be taking small decisions. I cannot be present everywhere, and the organization needs to be able to take the right decisions with or without me. So, how do I do that?”

The answer was I dug into my past, and one of the most exciting classes that I did at Illinois Tech in my undergrad was something called an IPRO, an interprofessional project where people from across majors came together and tried to solve a challenge. And the project that I was involved in was about documenting the condition of Crown Hall. This was pre-renovation. Crown Hall is an architectural landmark and was one of the first buildings that Mies van der Rohe designed. It’s an architectural classic, but it had fallen into disrepair over the last 70-odd years. Prior to the renovation, there was a project that involved architects and engineers, and I was a computer science guy but hugely interested in art and so on. So, I participated in that, and that was really eye-opening for me and learned a lot, learned probably the most from any of my classes at Illinois Tech.

So I said, “Maybe that’s the solution.” So we sort of instituted something called XPROs, which stands for cross-functional projects, in our company. We tried to kick it off last year, was not very successful because when businesses are in operation and when businesses are growing, usually people do not have the bandwidth to commit to things that are not part of their routine. But once COVID hit, I think we finally found that moment of almost a pause for the organization, and I think that’s where we decided that we need to take a step back and kick off XPROs.

As early as April, we kicked off 35 cross-functional projects in the company. Everything from something super tactical as how do you improve our automation software to something as strategic as how do you rationalize SKUs? How do you reduce the number of SKUs in the company while improving flavor choices for the consumer? We kicked this off, and it’s been hugely successful because I think the power of small teams that have cross-functional talent, that have talent from three or four departments that use an OKR [objective and key result] to define exactly what project objectives are and what success looks like is very, very powerful and very liberating, not just for the organization, but also for the team members. I think we’ve had some fantastic outcome over the last 180 days.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

What’s an example where an insight from a team member who would not previously have been addressing a problem like this sort of bubbled up a solution that wouldn’t have otherwise been on the radar?

ANKUR JAIN

Two interesting ones. One, as COVID hit, we were very aware that sales reps will not be able to visit accounts with the same frequency as before. One of the problem statements for us was, “How do you ensure that you stay connected with your customer?” And our customers are primarily retailers and restaurant owners and bar owners and are able to communicate with them and at the same time generate sales and so on. So one of the projects that we kicked off was a sales ordering platform. Within 90 days, we actually went live with a completely mobile-driven ordering system and have been able to onboard many retailers, and 100 percent of our sales reps are using it now. So, project start to finish, within 90 days and hugely powerful and a team of four people working on it.

Another example is we also wanted to sort of figure out consumers are going to stop going to bars and restaurants, are not going to feel safe enough even when things open up to a shop in a store. So, e-commerce is going to become super important. How do you build that, and how do you ensure that you’re ahead of the competition when it comes to e-commerce? One of the projects, which is still under wraps, we started ideating on it and developed a really interesting solution, which we are going to go live with next month: booze delivered at your doorstep. It’s not just going to be about Bira 91. It is going to be brand-agnostic platform, very similar to Drizly in the U.S.

STEVE HENDERSHOT

Looking ahead, what do you see as your most significant project challenges over the next year or two? Where would you like to take this, and what are the projects that must make it happen?

ANKUR JAIN

So I think some of the most important projects that we’re driving in the company today are our learning and development projects. We’re using the pandemic to really build a beer-first culture, which essentially means that we want to train our sales reps. We want to train our brewers. We want to train our marketing folks to understand the category a lot more. And so we’ve embarked on a very intense learning and training program backed by the Cicerone program from the U.S. The total number of certified Cicerones in India is about 28. Today we have a batch of about 40 that is learning about beer and is expected to qualify the Cicerone certification by the end of the calendar year. I think that’s a super exciting project that we want to see through the finish line this year.

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STEVE HENDERSHOT

For India to keep its balance during a precarious era of fast growth, business leaders are going to have to generate serious value, whether that’s leading projects that help the country’s IT infrastructure mature or building businesses that create new jobs. I don’t want to downplay the challenges, because they are significant. But the culture of innovation and of excellence that’s in place gives plenty of reasons that signal India’s future is very bright.

Our sponsor again is PMTraining.com. From live virtual classes to online courses available on demand, PMTraining equips students to earn PMI certifications including the Project Management Professional, or PMP®. And Projectified® listeners are eligible for discounts of up to $400 per class; just enter the link PMTraining.com/podcast.

NARRATOR

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