The Indian IT and ITeS (IT-enabled services) industries are big. Clocking in over $150 billion in annual revenue, they are estimated to contribute nearly 8% to India’s GDP. They are also employment magnets, collectively employing nearly 4 million people.

They are also not in the pink of health. These industries are grappling with slowing revenue growth, layoffs, rising protectionism in markets like the US, and the ignominy of being bested at their own outsourcing game by competitors like Accenture.

And yet, TCS, the largest of the Indian players, has announced deals worth nearly $6 billion in just over a month. The same TCS is hiring drastically fewer employees though. During the first nine months of the year, it hired just 15% of the people it hired during the same period a year ago.

Clearly, something isn’t adding up. In our search for answers, the first port of call is the “Project Manager”.

The rise (and fall) of the Project Manager

Indian IT’s strength has traditionally been taking over manpower-intensive business and technology processes off the hands of first world clients and executing them at a fraction of first world costs.

Growth was easy and linear—add more people. The more manpower-intensive the work, the more it drove growth. By the early 2000s, teams of less than a 100 people were “small” teams, and success was driven by creating larger and larger teams and companies. Quickly, 10,000-strong firms became common. By 2010, the top firms like Infosys, TCS and Wipro had more than 100,000 employees each and were growing at 30% year on year.

One role made all this possible—the Project Manager (PM).

Handling communication, managing leaves, tracking timesheets, mediating disputes and travelling abroad to build client relationships, the Project Manager was the backbone of Indian IT. The better the PM, the larger the team she could run. By mid-2000s, the first milestone in the careers of most young IT staff was to make “PM”.

But, building modern and complex software isn’t easy. You can’t envision what is being built in its entirety. You can only really experience it once it’s built.

“Projects” are outdated

For the modern business, software isn’t an “enabler” like it was in the 90s. Today, it doesn’t matter which market or sector the company is in. Hospitality, transport, logistics, electronics—across most business verticals—the company with better software almost always wins.

Businesses that aspire to succeed at the scale of companies like Uber, Apple and Amazon, all have to solve two key problems when building their systems and software.

  1. Concurrent – First, the sheer numbers of customers these companies service simultaneously is mind-boggling.

AUTHOR

Sidu Chonira

Sidu's worked in the Indian IT industry, both services and product, for 12 years. He has held two jobs and co-founded four startups in that period. He has worked as an engineer, product manager, salesperson, recruiter, marketer, CTO and CEO. He has failed more times than he can count. His most recent startup was acquired by GO-JEK, an Indonesian unicorn, in 2015. At GO-JEK, he serves on the Board of Directors, heads Technology Recruiting and also heads Data Engineering.

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