Please take your time to read, for as they say, the devil is in the details…
The camera descends from the blue cloudless sky to a modern building whose glass walls reflect the blueness of the skies, indicating the infinite possibilities within. This marvel of engineering is home to Mahishmati Infotech (MI), a leading IT services company of that city that survived primarily on a large account in the Banking and Financial Services sector. It was late 2008 and the effects of global recession were being felt on MI as on any other company in the country.
The manager handling delivery for this major account had left the company some time back. The Business Unit (BU) head Sivagami had placed her hopes on two young project managers Bahu and Balla, who had joined her organization as freshers and risen through the ranks through sheer hard work and commitment. Well, almost.
Bahu was a natural leader, and had the team cheering for him. Balla had the support of his godfather in executive management. So the odds were almost even, and Sivagami had decided to make one of them the account manager based on how their respective projects fare in an upcoming critical client visit. Yes, client visits are always critical, and this one was more so. Partly because the fate of the company itself rested on the outcome of this visit, more so because it was the perfect opportunity to settle internal political scores.
This may have less connection with reality but, for dramatic effect, visiting members of the client team may be portrayed as brutal and scary, and speaking a language of which we can only make out some sounds. If it was easier to understand them, they’d probably appear less scary.
Sivagami’s instructions (which was also the decision of executive management as she was a little too eager to emphasize on every other occasion), were unambiguous that the client should be engaged gradually starting with a discussion with the team and that the most important demo (designed for ‘wow factor’) should be presented only at the last session with executive management so that they also get some credit or at least the client goes back impressed and happy.
Bahu was careful to take the team along, highlight their hard-work and make the client understand the value that they brought in. He owned responsibility for their shortcomings and faced all the difficult questions. Balla, on the other hand, focused more on his own achievements and built his narration around how he held the project together in spite of a non-performing team.
It may have been that both Bahu and Balla were playing to the gallery, but their audience and how they expected the audience to make their judgement were different. It could also have been that while Bahu had a genuine concern for his team and the company, Balla had only his own career to worry about.
While the client was having a walk in the bay and discussing with the team, Balla had his team present that demo which Bahu’s team had worked so hard to build, which thoroughly impressed the client and flabbergasted the management representatives accompanying the client. Bahu was obviously not happy because without this demo to show in the final meeting, he’d have to manage with the verbal jugglery that he was good at, throwing terms such as enterprise vision, seamless integration, and managed innovation that can be quite useful in such situations.
At the end of the day, it was generally acknowledged that both Bahu and Balla impressed the client, but considering how Bahu involved the team and gave the client confidence in their capability, it was decided for him to be made the account manager.
This is were a normal story would end on a happily ever after note, but this is only the beginning of the end.
Before we can move on to the conclusion, we must introduce another character whom we cannot ignore because of the seemingly important role they have in this story and the opportunity they offer to bring in some comedy, drama and punch dialogue.
This pivotal character worked as a one-man PMO (project management office) for the BU, reported directly to Sivagami, and was tasked with all the behind the scenes tedious work such as resource allocation in a user unfriendly tool, invoicing different clients based on different models, and so on. His name was Kattappoka (and that kind of reflected his situation in colloquial Malayalam)
Kattappoka had a fondness for Bahu because the latter mostly took care of his own dirty work, without adding to the burden of the former. Their friendship has some potential for development in the story but is being ignored in the interest of time. One point to note that will later become important is that Bahu would often tell Kattappoka, “With you by my side, there’s no way I’d lose my allocation in this account.”
Before taking over as the account manager, Sivagami asked Bahu to attend a Hackathon organized by the budding mobility services horizontal (budding, because we’re still in 2008) so that he’ll have first hand experience in an area that holds the potential for several opportunities to grow the account. “By the time you’re back, I’ll also get you a brilliant architect who can drive mobility implementation within the account”, promised Sivagami as Bahu halfheartedly left for the Hackathon held at a 5-star hotel, hoping that at least the buffet would make it worth his time.
Kattappoka was also asked to accompany Bahu because Sivagami had a tendency to overload this poor fellow by assigning him to tasks in which he had nothing to contribute and much to answer for. It was from this tendency that many took Kattappoka to be a slave of the BU, while technically he was not.
It was on the sidelines of this Hackathon that Bahu made acquaintance with a very impressive architect from the Mobility practice and wanted her to join his project, but was hesitant to ask. Around the same time, Balla came to know of this from a spy he had planted in Bahu’s team who carelessly or intentionally leaked such information during tea-time conversations.