Ashish Tandon, MD, Egis in India, says global experts are increasingly taking up projects in India at every stage of the project life cycle.
What is the significance of project management, particularly at a time when India is looking at large scale infra projects of a size and scale it has never attempted before?
India aspires to be the hub of global manufacturing and it is doing everything in its power to make it happen. Many major infrastructure projects are announced, set within time-lines and budgets. Proper project management is the only way this mammoth task can be realized. Else, it will be impossible to manage the scale and quality that India is aiming to achieve.
As the 12th five-year plan enters its last quarter, there is an expected shortfall of 30 per cent to the proposed $1trillion infrastructure spending, with huge shortfalls in sectors like ports, railways and roads. If we analyse the reasons, they can be categorised as internal and external factors impacting the project deliverables. External factors like land acquisition, environment clearances and other regulatory approvals are beyond the control of the implementing agencies. However, there are internal factors such as adequate planning, project scheduling and monitoring of critical activities, resource management, etc., if managed properly, may cease to be bottlenecks. We need to revamp the whole process of conceptualising and completing projects. Faster, more efficient project management would reduce costs, improve productivity and increase competitiveness.
What is your observation how stakeholders in India approach project management?
Project management, until recently, was never seen end-to-end. It was always in silos which is why there were unavoidable gaps between different stages and the end product, more often than not, was unable to match up to global standards. Things are looking a lot better now. Almost all stakeholders have realised the importance of project management and have actually started taking conscious steps to eliminating challenges. To start with, there is now a one window clearance for most projects. Stakeholders have started shifting towards value-consciousness from price-consciousness earlier. This is encouraging global experts to take up projects in India at every stage of the project life cycle, thereby offering better solutions at every stage - from planning to execution.
In the current context of project management, there is an urgent need to anticipate and apprehend risk. Continuous risk mitigation needs to be implemented at the planning stage. Each one should acknowledge their share of responsibilities for an idyllic accomplishment of a project. For example, as an awarding agency, the government should look after land acquisition, rehabilitation and resettlement, fund allocation, etc., prior to initiating a project. The contractors should have proper resource management, quality monitoring techniques in place, prior to construction work; everyone involved has to play their part effectively.
How does one deal with factors that are beyond one´s control like land acquisition?
Project management is a tool that can help you pre-empt difficult situations arising in the project and help you try to mitigate risks. It can, however, help you to a certain extent and act like a cushion. However, for smooth completion of projects, the external factors which are not within control have to change, else the project delivery suffers.
Land acquisition, being a problem area in most projects, should not be looked upon as a challenge faced only by Indian projects. It is a concern for projects around the world. It is the approach to such a matter which makes it difficult.
Globally, it is suggested project land should be completely acquired prior to floating the tender while in India projects are awarded with only part of the land acquired. However, such risks needs to be duly incorporated at the planning stage to get a clear picture of the actual project time-line and cost. Simultaneously, we can assist the government agencies for alternative acquirable land options.
What are the factors that you evaluate as a company in India before you decide to take on a project?
Infrastructure projects have long gestation periods and the capital for most of these projects have a blend of debt and equity. So, the cash flow structure of the project plays an important factor. Secondly, there should be clarity based on scope of work to be done for any project which helps in reducing delays. Land acquisition and environmental clearances are usually the major challenges; they need to be taken care of before the project starts. Further, a strong regulatory environment aiding project sustenance at all times helps timely completion of work and invoice clearance. The financial health and reputation of the client also plays a critical role.
What project monitoring software/tool do you use and why?
We have our in-house tools and some customised software solutions developed in France that caters to our project monitoring process. Such tools or software are merely support pillars. The real foundation is created based on a constant documentation, analysis of project execution process and lessons learnt, all of which needs to be transferred to every new work awarded, so that mistakes do not get repeated. Egis has recently acquired majority stake in a UAE-based company called Projacs International. This company is a specialist in the project management domain and is helping the group enhance its project management capabilities.