Dr. Sreedharan was one of the recipients of the Economic Times awards for corporate excellence this year (2009). He said in his talk, “The hardest knock I received in my career spanning 50 years of professional life was the decision of Government of India to choose Broad Gauge for the Delhi Metro instead of the internationally favored Standard Gauge which I felt was the appropriate technology. At that time I even contemplated resigning as the managing director of the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation since I felt I should not be party to what I believed was the wrong technical decision. However, I subsequently changed my mind since the completion of the Delhi Metro project was essential for the benefit of the city of Delhi. DMRC had to adopt a very positive outlook towards this decision of the Government and we were able to complete Phase-I of the project 2 years and 9 months ahead of the schedule and within projected cost. Subsequently, the decision on what gauge should be adopted by Metro Systems has been left to the decision of the respective state governments and today three of the Delhi Metro rail lines including the modern hi-speed Airport Metro connection will be on Standard Gauge. All other cities which are planning Metros like Chennai, Bangalore and Cochin are also adopting Standard Gauge.”
This story depicts the essence of technical leadership and its 3 key attributes: (1) independent decision making (2) Influencing (3) Leading initiatives (what I refer to as 3-I model). Dr. Sreedharan had a strong view about the technical decision pertaining gauge. He had the ability to influence decisions on subsequent Metro rail projects and he lead the DMRC project successfully in spite of technical challenges. If you want to assess yourself as a technical leader, ask yourself (1) When was the last time I felt strongly about a technical decision? (2) Which key technical decisions am I influencing? (3) What technology initiative did I lead recently?
I have been facilitating a 1-day workshop on “Becoming a successful technical leader” for the past 2 years and the workshop is now 25+ sessions, 25+ organizations and 400+ participants old. During the workshop, we explore various aspects of technical leadership through case studies especially in the context of IT industry in India. At the end, participants prepare an action plan (what I call Systematic Investment Plan - SIP) for themselves. See the slides below.
Becoming a successful technical leader
I will be facilitating an open program on 25th March 2009 in Hotel Royal Orchid Park Plaza in Bangalore. You can download the registration form (yes, there is an early bird discount). You may want to see a consolidated list of my articles on technical leadership.