Monday, July 7, 2008

Top challenges in developing technical leadership

In earlier articles I have written about challenges from engineer’s perspective in becoming a technical leader and also about demand and supply side drivers in developing technical leadership. Here I would like to summarize what I believe are the challenges Indian IT organizations are facing in developing technical leadership:

· Cost-based business model: Most of the Indian IT organizations work on the cost based business model. This is irrespective of whether it is an India-headquartered IT services firm or a subsidiary of a global MNC firm. Every project is estimated based on number of person-month effort it takes and budgeted accordingly. Many times there is an average billing rate associated with the relationship independent of the experience level or value an expert brings to the table. This equation dis-incentivizes growing experts in the team (as your profitability goes down). I have written earlier about Rs.15 Lakh salary dilemma which articulates this challenge. There are leaders who are trying to play with this model. They are hiring domain experts and trying to show how productivity of certain teams is much higher than the rest and hence pricing should be “value-based” rather than “cost-based”. I would call it “prototyping phase” and we have yet to find “early-adopters”.

· Lack of meaningful roles: Even if organization feels the need to develop technical leaders, it needs to create such roles where a person should feel valued. Creating a role with “architect” in the title and without providing meaningful job content leaves the person even more frustrated (see Beware of technical ladder roles). Most of the time, resources are dedicated to accounts (or product lines). At senior levels, the roles should involve influencing multiple projects or programs and this may need re-negotiating contract terms to ensure that there won’t be any breach of confidentiality or dilution of value added.

· Lack of role models: Role models make a lot of difference in motivating juniors to choose a particular career path. In Indian IT industry there is severe shortage of technical leaders. Even those who are doing serious work double up as managers due to either social or political reasons. When I facilitate technical leadership workshops, I realize very strongly that many participants look at the “technical leader” role more as a hypothetical role.

· Lack of maturity in talent market: It is only recently that jobs with “consultant”, “architect”, “Systems engineer” titles have started showing up. However, it will take a few years before engineers look upon these “secure” roles.

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