The Indian stereotype- We do it to ourselves!

This is work of non-fiction. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely intentional

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This is work of non-fiction. Any resemblance to anyone living or dead is purely intentional and no animals were harmed during the writing

And just when I thought stereotypes were going extinct, there it comes back! Some races are targetted by others for most part and with the newly arrived Indians they tend to raise their middle finger to others and proclaim-How dare others stereotype us! We are gonna stereotype ourselves and before you spell Naan, I am going to do it to myself! The saga continues!

And I can vouch for this. I am not someone who had to do any kind of massive research to make this observation. An FOB (Fresh Off Boat) immigrant myself from the land of snakes and elephants (no, not the African grasslands) from almost 20 years ago, I have seen, I have observed, I have cringed and I have been known to utter the occasional four letter word (that has nothing to do with human anatomy or any of your close relatives)

Staring-

The other day I am on the treadmill running at just under 5 mph, this Indian sub-continental gentleman (Could be Indian, Pakistani or Bangladesi) walking on the adjacent treadmill starts to give me the famous stare  and keeps that on and doesn’t relent (Yes staring is a favorite pastime for Indians). Now we all have seen how Indians love walking, ambling, walking briskly but running?  Take a peek as you drive along suburban Washington DC and you can see quite a few. So if you run you are going to stared at by your fellow brownies. Accept that.

If you are reading this and you are not of Indian origin and have visited India, you know what I am talking about. You must have been stared to with rigour and felt 500,000 pairs of eyes digging you in the back and more if you happen to be female.

The H-1

So who are those H-1 Indians? Aspiring yuppies from certain parts of India that fly in armed with an IT degree, work as contractors and then absolutely refuse to assimilate with the mainstream. They tend to congregate, co-habit and collude with each other. You’d see them most likely drive a Toyota , Honda or other Asian cars (High resale value!!) and then you have the upper echelons that may have the Lexus or Merc. All said and done, they have got to be in the IT sector. Anyone in any other business may be considered a pariah I suspect!

H1B

Apparently they seem to have some kind of dress code – A short sleeved or full sleeved striped polo top, “sneakers” and tube socks and that is something you cannot miss. Don’t believe me? Take a walk in any middle class northern VA community and you will not miss any sightings!

IT-

A few weekends back, I was approached by this gentleman in a striped polo at a party and it too him all of 120 seconds to ask me if I was in IT. When I replied in the negative and told him I was in EPC Project Management, he didn’t give up. He followed me and promptly asked me again- Ok, EPC Project Management, but is that in IT? I had nothing to offer but to blabber gibberish and pour his drink over my head. I only hope for his sake and mine, we do not run into each other again.

The PJ’s-

And have you seen some women walking around into the friendly neighborhood grocery store, with utter disdain for norms, clad in nothing but fluffy flip flops, night PJ’s and looking like they just rolled out of bed and have taken the term “casual” to new depths? Well, hate to say it and if you happen to bump into them, you will see they are the feminine version of their H-1 spouses.

Call center-

And aren’t those just a way of life now? I was on the phone last week with a customer service associate “Steve” (We don’t really have Steves in India) from some one who was trying to sell me time shares for a holiday resort (Shame on me for having picked up the phone!). He starts with this rather nasal north eastern American accent and as he starts to realize my accent is fairly Indian, his accent I kid you not, is starting to transform. From the New Jersey accent to a regular IT guy from Hyderabad. I was on the floor, phone hanging on to my ear, banging my feet on the floor, rolling in laughter. Now I did not want to put the phone down. This guy, who originally introduced himself as “Steve” finally broke down and his name was Sudarshan. I paid him a rich compliment and hung up with an assurance of “Let me think it over”. So when you think of messing with your Indian colleague with the “Is the call center guy your cousin” , chances are, there truly a cousin of everyone of us that works in a call center.

And now for all you ignoramuses- We do have elephants in India, but no, we do not ride them to work. We do not have HOV lanes for people sharing an elephant and they are not part of the growing Uber population.

 

The Plannosaurus

I ask for nothing more, I ask for nothing else and I make no bones about being accused of being a Plannosaurus- an almost extinct species of the family of dinosaurs. Not only that I firmly believe there no substitute for experience.

Last 4 years I have been subjected to endless technology that has promised to solve world hunger by making it easier for my and my teams to do our jobs with high efficacy. I have attempted to humor them all and while I may not have been truly impressed by most of them, its given me an opportunity to network with some of the more relentless professionals and that is not to be ignored. But has this interface helped me do my job better? Has it enabled me to deliver as sold? Answer’s a resounding NO!

Having seen every aspect of the EPC business, what I now seek for is that elusive pot of gold. A process, an application that will enable me to grow better Planners (No- not schedulers, not “controllers”) and facilitate development of plans without spelling P6 at every turn. I must admit I have had an earful of proposed solutions, still trying to color me all over and if you can get me one solution that gets me to answer this simple question-

Will it help me deliver as-sold?

 

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If the technology that is so enthusiastically utilized for all matters can be utilized towards development and on-the-run change to Plans the Plannosaurus shall be eternally grateful on behalf of the industry.

Think about this- If I fed a recipe of a plan for building a combined cycle power plant or a coal plant, will you be able to create a plan for me ? Will technology help in collaboration between my experience and machine intelligence?

If I gave you the optimal performance and productivity criteria, will you utilize technology with a solution that enables addressing construction problems on the run?

 

If you can respond with a YES on either of the two, I will not only give up my technological apprehensions, I will create a conglomerate that fuses the Plannosaurus with machine and actually generates an unequivocal  YES! to – It will indeed help you deliver as-sold!

A journey through a sliver of the Bible

 A passage through a sliver of the Bible-

Israel – As a first timer, its been a revelation and teaches why I should not listen to the media and other know-alls. Beautiful country and for a population of just over 8 million, the young country but biblical land has so much to offer. If not for the searing temperatures, it could just have been anywhere when you are in Tel Aviv. Then you turn south and go to the ancient port city of Jaffa (or Yafo, as its called), you start the time travel to times of Abraham.

A history of building, invasions, carnage, then the rebuild, development, time and again proves just how resilient the folks are. Tel Aviv is just barely 100, while Jerusalem is well over 4000 years old. Tel Aviv is just like any other modern city and still yearns to grow with its subway under construction and skyscrapers dotting the horizon. For an avid hiker, it’s a dream come true since everything in the city that is worth visiting can be covered on foot while savoring the ambience of the outdoor cafes.

An overwhelming experience to walk through the Biblical history in Jerusalem has to be the highlight. The east part of Jerusalem (Jeru for City and Shalom for Peace) was founded by King David (Of the David vs Goliath fame). The temple mount stands in the middle of the walled city which by the way has just over 40,000 denizens, Armenians, Jews, Muslims and Christians; A perfect harmony of cultures in this microcosm. The city is divided into these four quarters and underneath it all, lies the pathway over which Jesus was crucified and walked to his final destination. I got to see the place where he died, the place where he was anointed and the monument over his tomb. That is truly awe-inspiring.

Another sub highlight is the famous Wailing wall, that used to be a retaining wall of the temple structure. As you turn left of the wall, you see the minaret of the mosque that was built by the Muslim conquestors on the 7th century. The Al-Aqsa mosque also stands proud in the temple courtyard. Everyone from King David, Babylonians, Romans, Muslims, Ottomans, the British, The Jordanians and now the state of Israel has had something to do with this Biblical city.

Then the drive from 3000 m above sea level to 400 m below sea level passing through yet another slice of history and political turmoil, The West Bank to the Dead Sea. The Dead sea, where absolutely no life exists. Wading through it feels like wading through a barrel of oil, such viscosity made worse by the sulphates, bromides , chlorides and other mineral salts that keep it saturated. You could see Jordan on the other side of the Sea and its no picnic being at the beach here except to make sure you could actually float on water.

Visitors and Tourists- Just make sure you pick a cooler time to visit Israel if you can but if you are a sun worshipper, then by all means go for it any time. The Mediterranean beaches are just gorgeous and super lively.

One thing for sure – Never else have I seen a people with a more fierce national pride than the Israelis. They all go to public schools until they are 18, at which point all boys and girls have to compulsorily serve a 2-3 year stint in the military. There is a deep sense of belonging that exudes pride and patriotism.

 

 

The anatomy of the Baseline

Much has been read and heard about projects losing their shirts due to the Customer. Really? Why does it this keep rearing its head over and over? That cliche, Change in a way of life and it is one of those things that is inevitable. Attempting to find a sorry excuse for your losses under the guise of change may be a subterfuge and in some cases a rookie mistake.

Understanding a few key aspects of what the deal is goes a long way in being cognizant of the details. Ask a few questions-

1- What is the technical scope?

2- What are the commercial Terms and Conditions?

3- Is the scope firm and prescriptive?

4- What exactly is the Division of Responsibility? Who does what?

5- Is there a firm price associated with the above scope?

6- Is there a specific time frame to execute the above scope?

7- Are you going to be penalized if you finish late or is there a bonus clause if you finish early?

Hardly a revelation, but if the Scope, Price and schedule are clearly specified by means of understanding the Contract are truly understood, you are in with a fighting chance. Thus, the understanding of the Baseline is what was just described above.

Now that the Baseline is established, any deviation to the Baseline will constitute a Change. How the Baseline scope is executed strictly depends on you, as long is delivers the product within the framework of quality and safety.  Now its time to execute.

IC-change-managment

 

Always always refer back to the Baseline and whenever you become aware of a Change either due to errors/ omissions or Customer directions, stop and evaluate. This is the point where you make a massive difference to your bottomline. A legitimate deviation from the Baseline must be addressed as you go. Do not wait until the end of project to do a “global settlement”.

This is a trap- Customer unwillingness to keep moving and not recognizing change is a sure sign that you may not get a fair return on efforts. And the global settlement more often than not may end up in disgruntlement all around and repeat business could be impacted. The optimal way manner is to understand the baseline, recognize deviations, address changes and agree on a fair settlement and move on.

 

 

Productivity- Still a conundrum?

Ah- Good old productivity! After having built thousands of plants, the industry keeps struggling with the seemingly simple concept of earnings. Meeting the schedule to make your goals and earn your hours. Simple ? Yes. Easy? No! I am not trying to advertise a silver bullet but rubbing salt into an age old wound in reality.

Food for thought-

  1. Are short term gains with achieving productivity in the construction world hurting our chances of project delivery?
  2. Is a “Finishing” culture absent in the industry? Why are we all so good with Starting somethings and we get caught with our inabilities to Finish?

The Finishing culture is something that will always have a bearing directly on our abilities to deliver something to a downstream customer and also to earn the right hours. Of you think of this as a fishbone with the end game being “Finish” the roadblocks and show stoppers must be identified as soon as they are discovered and this doesn’t involve any fancy software but a basic process of being able to know the decision making chain. Each person in this chain is critical.

3. What drives the worker? Are a good percentage of them just here for a paycheck?

4. Does Data really help? Is Data going to a huge driver and can we actually see this improving productivity?

 A simple footnote- Its always good to earn more than you spend. As simple as that

 

 

 

 

The Human factor vs the Bottomline

With all the nationalistic rhetoric about American jobs for Americans, surprises do not cease on how deep this goes; affecting industries I thought would be insulated. Its probably not a huge deal spewing broad words of wisdom encompassing every business and then the dissection can begin.

Clearly the highly technical lower tier execution work is something the low cost centers in India and China can clearly be banked on. A good directive combined with presence of some leadership in these low cost centers will continue to prove to be the most optimal option. This in my humble opinion can continue to be executed overseas.Good examples of these are detailed designing, optioneering etc.

Now the regular data entry type, discrete work- Do Americans want to do that? You would think they would. If these jobs go to local Americans, understandably it would lead to some increase in costs, but this could be a big win for the local flavor.I would vote lets bring these back to America. Cognizant of what this entails- Bringing back the call center could be a huge visible win for appeasing the locals. The call center has become such a part of the Indian sterotype which has led to  a high degree of discontent and highlighted the indifference on part of major utility companies; a potential key factor in fostering racist tendencies.

Then you get into those low skilled mundane work that may be done by a sweatshop culture for little to nothing; highly repetitive by the book work .These are typically jobs that may still serve the consumer a lot better by staying where they are.You don’t really want your youth to take the east way out and get too comfortable with low skilled jobs that can hardly prepare you for a solid future.

Obviously one size never fits all- You can bolster job growth not just by sheer numbers but by the type of jobs that will facilitate long term development of the human resource in America.

 

The Human element- Leaders & teams

Isn’t it always about people?  The human element is not the one that makes projects tick but the qualities in the humans is what makes it click. Leading, requesting, ordering, cajoling, collaborating are only some of the ways to get it moving.

How about spending may be willing to be a real leader rather than running a project like an Army General. Not saying that doesn’t work. In a perverse way I have had some really great leaders who by virtue of running their teams like a platoon delivered. However I have better memories of working for leaders who collaborated and leaned on their experts to come up with solutions that worked more effectively.

Leadership is not something you inherit by virtue of being a senior person in the organization. These are people who are not demigods nor are they untouchable legends; these are people in flesh and blood that just inspire you in several ways. Inspiration is not something you can touch, its that euphoric feeling of wanting to be part of the team, having that inherent desire to always stay ahead, cognizant and secure in the knowledge that what you analyze, what you recommend is going to be paid attention to. So you are not really part of a count but an integral part of the decision making process. That is the kind of leader that will go far. Not the entitlement, not being gray haired, not being a favorite of someone’s.

Then the teams- How about a working in a team that feels like you are in a microcosm of the United Nations! Every culture brings something to the party. Its that pot luck of ideas and concepts; something every member brings to the table. When team members get to be comfortable in a social setting, political correctness seems like a term from the Martian dictionary. We have all been part of sessions where we get told to respect other cultures; I am not even sure if I need to make any special efforts to do that. A person is a person and if they are able to gel into this polyglot team they are obviously comfortable. It is however a highly interesting concept when team members freely exchange nuances about their culture and its this process that makes the team pull their oars in the same direction. Believe it not, speaking to a non Westerner slowly and loudly still does not work. What works is empowerment and space to perform , where linguistic abilities do not matter.

Then the leader has that uncanny ability to bring out the best out of everyone, no exceptions. I have recently come off working in a team that would be classified not just as multi cultural but truly world class. So what makes me say so? The ability of that team to bring out the best out of each other, the obvious lack of king sized egos backed up by a leadership model that stands unparalleled. A leader who did not have to be the “Know all” but a leader who had the ability to be a supporter in the most adverse situations and yet had the humility to lean on their team to get what they needed to make critical decisions.

And what else? Leaders finding time to deal with their team members as humans, not subordinates. It may be a cliche, but true good leaders are a rarity and I am not even mentioning visionaries.