Monday, December 26, 2005

Industry Wrestles with a Befuddled Group of Projects Managers

By Asim Choudhury
As e-learning ventures crop up at every conceivable place in India, driving business goals appears to be difficult and painful. As the rush for offering e-learning services increase, international clients remain innoculated against well-worded sales pitches and tall promises. Most companies fail to adhere to the standards they commit largely because of major flaws in project management. No wonder, the craggy Indian e-learning industry cannot get back to some acceptable shape unless they begin looking for professional project management. This article addresses the oft-neglected realm of professional project management and enlists reasons that make for inefficacious Project Managers in Indian e-learning industry.

As 2005 wraps up, the aspirations of the Indian e-learning industry is soaring to greater heights. The plans are set and all believe that mission 2006 will help them register greater profits and faster growth. This belief is largely driven by the action in the global e-learning theatre where players are voicing a great future for the industry. With such a global e-learning revolution in the offing, it makes sense for Indian companies to rejoice.


But there ought to be a limit to one's aspirations, and mainly when the Indian industry harps on professionals who are semi-skilled, project managers who are less capable and a blurred vision. Add to it the plight resulting from lack of standards and regulation, the Indian scenario is not so rosy as one might think. As organizations grapple with sleek brochures and jazzy flash animations, the scenario remains mired in confusion.

The Ferment

That's the situation! Amidst the plethora of jargons and talk on processes and quality, the management of e-learning companies setup umpteen ‘meetings’ and ‘brainstorming sessions’ to find the actual flaw in their system. Once the long-drawn meetings get over, organizations fall back on some fanciful ideas. The core issue gets mired in confusion and they are all back to square one. The actual answer to their failures, largely overlooked, remains clearly written all over the wall -- incompetent Project Management.

Most project managers in the industry are ill-equipped to tackle the pressures of meeting organizational goals. The reason lies in their breeding and their candid and open negligence of skills. The position of an Indian project manager is more of hype than actual action.

So here’s the crux, realize it or not. A myopic management has never been able to shed their preoccupation with confusion and address the real question of professional Project Management: an issue that stands squashed under the boots of ROI-hungry Indian entrepreneurs.

What’s in a PM’s Role?
There goes a popular modern saying, “never buy a car from a salesman who does not know how to drive.” Arguing in the same sense a project manager is supposed to be an expert in handling e-learning challenges – be it at the stage of client interaction, storyboarding or development. In short he or she should necessarily be a multi-tasker and problem-solver.

For instance, any project manager without through understanding of storyboarding techniques will obviously fail to add value or distinguish between good or bad storyboards (SBs). At best, they can indulge in the now fairly common Indian technique of allocating the job to someone else – a scenario very common in Indian e-learning companies.

Going by existing practices, it is fairly understood that Project Managers in e-learning companies are responsible for the success of e-learning teams and also for contributing to organizational profitability and competitiveness. It is also clear that such endeavours requires PMs to be committed to processes and goals, apart from scheduling, staffing and budgeting, and monitoring and controlling teams efficiently.

Some Pertinent Questions
Given the current state of affairs, some questions remain. Let’s look into these here, albeit briefly.

Role Vs Action
Most Indian e-learning ventures are a confusing salmagundi. And that’s largely because of conflicting roles. Instructional Designers who are recruited to script story boards find themselves helping the PM drafting a ‘sleek’ mail to the client and undertaking ‘budgeting’ efforts. The Project Managers can be seen running around listening to the dictats of the management: their sole existence is based on keeping the management pleased. Such confusion of roles often sets discontentment within development teams resulting in high attritions. On an average most e-learning companies face an attrition rate of more than 35%, although companies claim that the attrition rate is hardly above 5%.

Lack of Basic Education
Most project managers in the e-learning industry are bereft of any basic education. They are at most a graduate or a post-graduate with no formal training. A study of about 200 project managers undertaken by the author in Delhi in January 2005 reveals that as many as 85% of PMs have not secured 60% or higher grades in their graduate or post-graduate examinations. And most have climbed up the ladder to position themselves as Project Managers on the basis of the “years of experience.”

Study has also revealed that e-learning companies often recruit PMs on the brand value of the previous company he or she has worked for. So a NIIT or a GE tag fetches them plum jobs.

Managing Sans Certification
The study by this author also revealed that a majority of project managers (about 98%) in the e-learning industry are not certified Project Managers. And while the PMs argue that they do not have the time to write a course, a comparative study of their academic records shows that most cannot simply get through a certification program owing to their abysmally poor academic caliber.

From the perspective of the employers this also makes sense in the way that these PMs can be employed at any salary and lack of a global certification makes them susceptible to employer dictates: that could be anything from handling odd assignments to undertaking business develop work.

The Fall-outs: Unstoppable
The early signs of discontentment are already visible round the corner. Big international clients have now woken up to the hard reality that they are indeed being taken for a ride by Indian e-learning vendors, largely by the North Indian ventures. The discontent has reached such alarming proportions that global clients are now giving a fresh look at their e-learning programs and the feasibility of getting them done in India. Some have been smart enough and have setup their own in-house e-learning teams. The costs for their ventures, they realize, is a part of what they paid Indian e-learning vendors.

Another trend that has been observed is that more and more e-learning professionals are now packing their bags and heading for different career paths. This is very rational. In a situation where processes and performance shows up for few boot-licking people, it is better to save their professional competence for other career paths. IT companies are now employing IDs by the dozens for Technical Writing and Documentation. This trend is most likely to increase over time as efficient resources are drained by other industries and the ones left are loosely trained people who cannot scale up beyond a certain level of competence.

10 comments:

Sai Sreenivas Vemu said...

Hi Asim Chaudry,

It's quite interesting to read ur articles and thanks for the outlook you provide at the Indian e-learning companies. How can I contact you?

I am Sreenu Vemu from Germany and currently working with one of the biggest e-learning companies here as BDM for UK, NL and Spain.

Would like to get in touch with you.

- Sreenu

Ramji Subramanian said...

Hi Asim

I just came across this blog yesterday through my friend. Thanks for the informative articles.

Its really pathetic to see how some of those 'entrepreneurs' exploit the industry.

Wish the Govt. brings in some laws to streamline this. Or atleast the bodies like NASSCOM can ensure that the guidelines are followed.

let's hope for the best.

- Ramji

Crazy Dan said...

Came across your blog by pure accident but thought whilst i was here i could tell you about this learning management site i found.

Chas Martin said...

You have described a frustration which I believe is global. Elearning development is complicated and expensive. Managing the project is often like a cat chasing its tail. These are complex projects with multiple decision points.The decision makers are frequently geographically distributed. The process of review, feedback and approval is not coordinated; the environment not really structured for collaboration; the time and cost too quickly goes out of control; and worst of all, the final elearning product fails to inspire its audience.
Michael Berkley, founder of QMIND (www.qmind.com) had the exact experience you describe. So, he built a company to make development of elearning more cost effective and productive. I suggest you explore the site. The ASP supports interactive storyboard creation to outline the project, then integrates project management tools to control the flow of review, feedback and approval so all appropriate decision makers are seeing the same information at the same time.
I have elaborated on several of these issues at http://blog.qmind.com.

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