When we try to develop a discipline to ‘monitor’ any activity, we will always have a problem in India. Somehow, we just do not have a sense of ‘follow up’ in the country. It has been this way 50 years ago and it is the same now, perhaps, even worse!
Someone gives directions, others are supposed to execute. It is then assumed that the job has been done. Whether it has been done on time - we do not know. Whether it has been done to meet the specifications - we do not know this, either!
Many times, the job is not done on time, and is not done to meet the required specifications. This goes for small maintenance jobs, as well as for the multi-crore projects. We just do not seem to get it right in India. Although many of us are quite familiar with the theory behind the ‘monitoring system’, we just don’t get around to implementing it.
A long time ago, the Times of India gave a long chart showing how many multibillions dollar contracts have been delayed in Mumbai, and how, with the time and cost overrun, these projects have cost us two to five times the original budget!
There is the Mumbai Metro Rail project, the major road system, the skywalks, the Mumbai Trans Harbor Link to Navi Mumbai and, of course, the Bandra-Worli Sea Link. The Sea Link started with a time and cost estimate of three years and Rs400 crore which expanded insidiously to 10 years and Rs1,700 crore!
Of course, there will always be excuses. The slum dwellers could not be moved; there was court litigation; there was also the fishermen’s litigation et al.
But finally, the customer is left holding the baby, paying heavily in taxes and tolls for our lack of monitoring and not taking corrective action in time!
There has been a massive project of laying paver bricks for pavements in Mumbai, so that most pavements look neat, and are usable by pedestrians. To start with, they look very nice, especially on inaugural day by some minister.
But, look at the same places six months later and you will find that many bricks have come unstuck. Some portions have just sunk, because the foundation was not firm. This poses a danger to those who have walking disabilities, and to the elderly.
Has anyone in authority, from the BrihanMumbai Municipal Corp (BMC), been monitoring this project? Very unlikely.
There are toilets at all the police colonies, which were constructed many years ago, and have been left unattended and un-serviced. There has been no monitoring.
The result: The general toilets in Mumbai’s police colonies are unusable and police personnel and their families have to go out ‘into the woods’ for their ablutions, like all the slum population does.
The roads are repaired regularly. The potholes are filled at least three times during the monsoon. Why is this so? Are there no warranties from contractors? Who does the monitoring? And where are the records? Perhaps, difficult to find because, as usual, orders are given and execution follows. Time and quality are given short shrift, so the need for close monitoring does not strike the powers-that-be.
Yes, India does have some exceptions like Elattuvalapil Sreedharan, who delivered the Delhi Metro on time and as per specifications. Friends, and even enemies, will give him kudos for the contribution he has made.
We can start this project with the simple matter of cleaning public toilets. Learn from Singapore.
At Singapore airport, there is a chart at the back of every toilet entry door. The attendant fills up the date and time, every time he cleans the toilet. And this could be every half hour. There are frequent checks made by supervisors to inspect the chart and to monitor the system.
It does not require high expertise. It requires the right attitude and simple systems that are religiously followed.
In India, except for the five-star hotels and many multinational company offices, this kind of monitoring of toilet maintenance is foreign to our system. The result is there for every visitor to see!
Unless we learn to monitor progress—in every field of activity—and make sure the ship is sailing at the right speed and in the right direction, we will retard progress in India. It has been and will be a heavy price to pay!
(Walter Vieira is a Fellow of the Institute of Management Consultants of India (FIMC). He was a corporate executive for 14 years and pioneered marketing consulting in India in 1975. As a consultant, he has worked across the globe in four continents. He was the first Asian elected Chairman of ICMCI, the world apex body of 45 countries. He is the author of 16 books; a business columnist; visiting professor on marketing in the US, Europe and Asia. His latest books are “5 Gs of family Business” with Dr Mita Dixit and “Marketing in a Digital/ Data World” with Brian Almeida. He now spends most of the time in NGO work.)