In 2000, I started working with a group of Accenture Indian and global leaders to start our first international Indian delivery centre, providing technology services to Accenture clients. Our beginnings were modest. We converted a factory in the northern suburbs of Mumbai into a 200 seat development centre, surrounded by pleasant grounds that seemed distant from the everyday turmoil of that great city. We started work in 2001 with just 2 clients, and by the end of the year we had hired around 70 people.
It was the start of an epic journey. It was my pleasure and privilege to be deeply involved with our Indian delivery centres until the beginning of 2014, when I moved into a new phase of my own career. Along the way, I made many, many Indian friends and colleagues, delighted in the way that India created employment and opportunity through digital technology and began to absorb just a little of its vast and glorious culture. We saw India become a natural part of the global economy, connected to businesses everywhere. As a group, we learnt about hyper-growth, transformation, scale and working as a global team around a common culture.
And at the start of 2014, our Accenture Indian team had opened in seven cities, made Bangalore the biggest location in Accenture and grown to more than 110,000 people. It the the great foundation of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network, and only just a teenager. A little before, we had held a great party to mark that success, rooted in our small beginning.
The Festival of Diwali
And of course, now it is Diwali – the festival of light that marks family, love, truth, knowledge and beginnings.
It has also become a symbol of India – ancient and modern, a nation of villages and digital tech – that is celebrated across the world.
In India itself, before the key celebration, people will decorate and clean their homes. The main Diwali night is a time for wearing new clothes and lighting the diyas or lamps that give the festival its name. Then, in a traditional household, prayers are offered to Lakshimi – the goddess of wealth and success. Fireworks and the sharing of sweets will follow. There are many stories and legends around Diwali, but overall it always signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair. It is a time of cleansing, forgiveness and new beginnings.
A few, translated words from the extraordinary writer Rabindranath Tagore mark its meaning:
Light, oh where is the light!
Kindle it with the burning fire of desire!
It thunders and the wind rushes screaming through the void.
The night is black as a black stone.
Let not the hours pass by in the dark.
Kindle the lamp of love with thy life.
My Diwali Greeting
So, a simple Diwali message is for all my Indian friends, those from India, those who love India and those who miss India: Happy Diwali – Shubh Deepavali – to you, your own friends and your families. Whatever your own beliefs, I hope the next twelve months is a time of new starts, new connections and opportunities, new achievements, and success.
Deepavali ki Shubhkamnayein
Deepavali Habbada Shubhashayagalu
Shubh Deepavali Diwalichya Shubhechha
Subho Deepavalir Preeti O Subeccha
Keith Haviland is a business and digital technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network.
Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moonand Dying Laughing. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.
Vision is core to good leadership, and the best management. It is the essence of successful programs, the heart of effective transformation and the engine of innovation.
It is also what teams want from their leaders. James Kouzes and Barry Posner once wrote in the Harvard Business Review:
“Being forward-looking—envisioning exciting possibilities and enlisting others in a shared view of the future—is the attribute that most distinguishes leaders from non-leaders. We know this because we asked followers.”
The Kennedy Commitment
One of my favourite examples of how an extraordinary vision can become reality is when Kennedy promised the world, before the US had even fifteen minutes of manned spaceflight experience: “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth.”
The Kennedy vision is truly remarkable because it was achieved, in full. The simple promise was turned to powerful reality by the leadership, intense focus and personal commitment of 400,000 people at peak.
Vision + Execution = Greatness
So, for me the essence of real leadership is precisely this combining of vision with the ability to execute. Another leadership thinker, Warren Bennis, once said: “Leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality.”
This is not straightforward. Many of us will have seen corporate vision or strategy documents that are strong on the Promised Land, but not the hardships and challenges of the journey to get there. Many good ideas come to grief on the cold, sharp-edged rocks of delivery.
Example: The Global Delivery Network
My own most intense experience of combining big vision and successful execution comes from building the Accenture Global Delivery Network, and, within that, its Indian Delivery Centres. Today, the company is one of the dominant players in India-based and global delivery of technology services. In hindsight, the journey seems inevitable, almost a slam-dunk. But it wasn’t always like this.We started practical work with a small core team of India leaders, Brits and Americans in late 2000, at the request of the charismatic, global head of Financial Services. He felt the intensity of coming global competition, and had the vision to take action.
This core team would become true masters of delivery and client service. They would achieve extraordinary things in their careers. (And to give credit were it is due, we were also strongly supported by experienced leaders in the US and Spain, reflecting the already global personality of the company. They would give us resources and counsel.)
Meeting in Mumbai
The initiative and initial investment was based on creation of an initial team of just 200 people. There are now 100,000s of people in the firm’s global delivery network. At the time that would have seemed to many the purest fantasy, although some of us had a glimmer of what might be possible. However, we were starting with a small step.
By the summer of 2001 had two clients and the 200 seats in the India city of Mumbai, only partially filled with people. Our initial task was getting close to completion. But we knew that our responsibility was much greater, and it was time to plan the next stage.
So in a meeting room in Mumbai, lit brightly by sunlight, we discussed want we wanted to achieve. We needed an aspirational vision but it needed to be practical, based on specific goals and achievements that we could easily communicate.
Vision on a Whiteboard
At the end of our discussion, I drew a whiteboard diagram to summarize and took a photo for future reference. I felt that it would be important, at least as a personal memento. In fact, it would years later be published in a celebration of the Indian team’s success. Although it was formalised and turned into detailed, properly costed plans, our simple whiteboard summary turned out to be a foundation stone.
The essence of this vision was what we needed to do to catalyse growth. Unlike typical start-ups, we were blessed with a vast and impressive existing channel. We needed scale and momentum, coupled with our first core offerings. We had to convince our salesforce and then our real clients we were credible in a new market. I had an instinct that once we passed that test of credibility, our growth rates would look exponential. And so it was to be. But first we had to get started.
So, the top half of the whiteboard looked like the following. (Our financial year ran from September to August, so Q1 of FY2002 starts in September 2001).
This wasn’t a conventional vision or strategy. It was stripped down to a bare minimum of supply-side metrics. But it would serve its purpose. It covered the following:
CMM targets that refered to the 5-level Capability Maturity Model from the Software Engineering Institute located at Carnegie Mellon University. This aims to measure the quality of software delivery processes. The true value of CMM – and its descendents like CMMi – is subject to debate. However, it does require a rigorous focus on process and quality, and was essential to competing in this new market. We had to reach the highest levels of the model fast. These targets would soon evolve into a much more profound focus on offerings and industrialisation.
Most importantly, the diagram showed the headcount growth we wanted to achieve in the next two years – headcount would be a vital and simple metric of our progress. The goals we put down – given we were starting from scratch – were tough. We would have to keep the people we hired busy, engaged and chargeable. We were in essence already anticipating an exponential growth curve.
The diagram also shows our intent to move into three cities as part of building a platform for growth. Getting support for this rapid geographic expansion would not be easy, but it would provide flexibility and scalability. In fact we opened in 2002 in Bangalore, followed by Hyderabad a little later. Bangalore was destined to become a true global hub.
Building a Team
The second half of the board contained another diagram that I have also recreated below. It shows something else we realised very early on. We need a focus on building a team for the future, not simply a collection of new resources, but a group of people – a real team – who shared a strong sense of culture and common cause.
Communicating the Vision
We now had goals that were hard to achieve, but inspirational for our core team, easy to measure and simple to communicate. This was also fundamental. As PeterDrucker once said: “Leadership is lifting a person’s vision to high sights, the raising of a person’s performance to a higher standard, the building of a personality beyond its normal limitations.” We needed to be able to straightforwardly tell our story and our intent to a team freshly hired, and get them to become leaders in a long journey of transformation. We used our whiteboard goals as the anchor for that process.
Work started very practically, with the joys and stresses of any good start-up. One of team – who was destined to become a much respected Senior Managing Director – help dig the cable trenches in the tarmac outside the main building. We built our first big client meeting room the day before our first big client meeting. Recruiting was hard at first. Really hard. We hadn’t built our brand in the relevant technology talent pools. We did have a thriving local consulting practice. However, we were unknown to the people we needed for tech work. The vision helped. So did phone calls and events with candidates, their parents and families to show our intent, and the possibilities ahead. Our India leaders worked hard to sell our story, and with passion. Good people began to join us.
A Key Test
Then came a moment that I have written about before, but remains a pivot point of this slice of history. We had reached 500 people, and acquired more space. Overall, with a little difficultly, we had balanced demand and supply effectively. Our HR team had made a brilliant start. Now demand for people was increasing. We were beginning to see supply challenges. It was the start of the exponential growth curve I had expected, hoped for and feared, just a little. I asked our talented local leaders this: Although, it has taken eighteen months to grow to 500 people, we need to hire 500 people in the next five weeks. Can you do it? Those who have built and worked in start-ups know how hard an ask this was. And what the mood of that meeting, when a world of pain and hard work was opening up before us? It was tremendous – full of energy and laughter. They had a “can-do, will-do attitude” and were committed to the vision. They went for it. We hired many HR contractors, and arranged for virtual interviews across the globe. We created a large war room with white boards to record real-time status. And then we held interviews, thousands of times. By the end of the period they had made 526 offers to good candidates. This was a break through moment. The India team went to trounce all the targets in the initial strategy. They had a vision, they had executed well. When we found a rare moment to reflect, we all felt we had shared in a period of great accomplishment.
Evolving the Vision
After that we adapted the vision and strategy on a six-monthly basis. It become a regular part of our process, both in India and globally. We looked ahead at our business challenges and opportunities, at what innovations were possible and what offerings would drive growth. We worked on horizons of now (immediate issues), three months, 12 months and 3-5 years. As a result, we drove higher levels of industrialisation, delivery innovation and accountability. We added a strong focus on business and industry skills. We opened in seven cities, and introduced ways of dealing with huge scale. We introduced offshore approaches to consulting and systems integration, beyond the normal outsourcing focus of global delivery. Throughout the focus remained on vision and execution.
Looking to the Future
What of the future? Global delivery models are now part of the fabric of IT services. They are standard, and expected. However, as always, there is new opportunity on the horizon. This is not so much from fashionable digital business models. These are important, but even more important is the systematic underlying change from an old world of devices and systems to a new universe of services and infinite sharing in the cloud. Agility becomes possible at scale in ways it never has before, and our connection with technology will be completely transformed. So, there is still plenty of scope for leadership that combines ambitious vision, and successful execution. There are still histories to be made.
Keith Haviland is a business and technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network. Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moon. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.
Things will always go wrong, but excellent preparation and strong leadership can turn failure into a kind of success.
The story of Apollo13 is a parable of gritty resolve, technology excellence, calm heroism and teamwork. For anyone focused on leadership, operations and program management it is absolutely the purest of inspirations.
The film of Apollo 13 centres around the phrase “Failure is Not an Option,” invented post the original drama in a conversation between Jerry Bostick – one of the great Apollo flight controllers – and the filmmakers. It summarises a key part of the culture of Apollo era NASA, and it has found its way onto the walls or desks of many a leader’s office. It is part of the DNA of modern business culture, and of any sizeable delivery project.
Lessons from the Space Program
But one of the reasons that the crew was recovered was this: throughout its history, NASA and mission control knew that failure was precisely an option, and they designed, built and tested to deal with that simple truth. The spacecraft systems had – where physically possible – redundancy. The use of a Lunar Module as a lifeboat had already been examined and analyzed before Apollo 13. In the end, a old manufacturing defect caused an electrical failure with almost catastrophic consequences. It was precisely because Mission Control was used to dealing with issues that Apollo 13 became what has been called a “successful failure” and “NASA’s finest hour.”
The ability to respond like this was hard earned. The Gemini program – sandwiched between the first tentative manned flights of Mercury, and the Apollo program that got to the moon – was designed to test the technologies and control mechanisms needed for deep space. It was a very deliberate series of steps. Almost everything that could go wrong did: fuel cells broke, an errant thruster meant that Gemini 8 was almost lost, rendezvous and docking took many attempts to get right and space walks (EVAs in NASA speak) proved much harder than anybody was expecting. And then the Apollo 1 fire – where three astronauts were actually lost on the launch pad – created a period of deep introspection, followed by much redesign and learning. In 18 months, the spacecraft was fundamentally re-engineered. The final step towards Apollo was the hardest.
But, after less than a decade of hard, hard work – NASA systems worked at a standard almost unique in human achievement.
So, with near infinite planning and rehearsal, NASA could handle issues and error with a speed and a confidence that is still remarkable. Through preparation, failure could be turned into success.
Challenges of a Life More Ordinary
All of us have faced challenges of a lesser kind in our careers. I was once responsible for a major software platform that showed real, but occasional and obscure issues the moment it went into production, expensively tested. We put together an extraordinary SWAT team. The problem seemed to be data driven, and software related and simply embarrassing. I nick-named it Freddie, after the Nightmare on Elm Street movies. It turned out to be a physical issue in wiring – which was hugely surprising and easily fixed. The software platform worked perfectly once that was resolved.
Another example: In the early days of Accenture’s India delivery centres, we had planned for redundancy and were using two major cables for data to and from the US and Europe. But although they were many kilometres apart, both went through the Mediterranean. A mighty Algerian earthquake brought great sadness to North Africa, and broke both cables. We scrambled, improvised, maintained client services, and then bought additional capacity in the Pacific. We now had a network on which the sun never set. It was a lesson in what resilience and risk management really means.
Soon enough, and much more often than not, we learnt to handle most failures and problems with fluency. In the Accenture Global Delivery network we developed tiered recovery plans that could handle challenges with individual projects, buildings, and cities. So we were able to handle problems that – at scale – happen frequently. These included transport issues, point technology failures, political actions and much more – all without missing a single beat. Our two priorities were firstly people’s safety and well being, and secondly client service, always in that order.
Technology – New Tools and New Risks
As technology develops, there are new tools but also new risks. On the benefit side, the Cloud brings tremendous, generally reliable compute power at increasingly low cost. Someone else has thought through service levels and availability, and invested in gigantic industrialized data centres. The cloud’s elasticity also allows smart users to side step common capacity issues during peak usage. These are huge benefits we have only just started to understand.
But even the most reliable of cloud services will suffer rare failures, and at some point a major front-page incident is inevitable. The world of hybrid clouds also brings new points of integration, and interfaces are where things often break. And agile, continuous delivery approaches means that the work of different teams must often come together quickly and – hopefully – reliably.
The recent Sony incident shows – in hugely dramatic ways – the particular risks around security and data. Our technology model has moved from programs on computers to services running in a hybrid and open world of Web and data centre. The Web reflects the overall personality of the human race – light and dark – and we have only just begun to see the long-term consequences of that in digital commerce.
Turning Failures into Success
What follows is my own summary view of those key steps required to handle the inevitably of challenges and problems. It is necessarily short.
1. Develop a Delivery Culture – Based on accountability, competence and a desire for peerless delivery and client service. Above all, there needs to be an acknowledgement that leadership and management are about both vision and managing and avoiding issues. Create plans, and then be prepared to manage the issues.
2. Understand Your Responsibilities – They will always be greater in number that you think. Some of them are general, often obvious and enshrined in law – if you employ people, handle data about humans, work in the US, work in Europe, work in India and work across borders you are surrounded by regulations. Equally importantly, the expectations with your business users or clients need to be set and mutually understood – there are many problems caused by costing one service level, and selling another. Solving a service problem might take hours or days. Solving a problem with expectations and contracts may be the work of months and years.
3. Architect and Design – Business processes and use cases (and indeed users!) need to account for failure modes. The design for technical architectures must acknowledge and deal with component and service failures – and they must be able to recover. As discussed above, cloud services can solve resilience issues by offering the benefits of large-scale, industrialised supply, but they also bring new risks around integration between old and new. Cloud brings new management challenges.
4. Automate – Automation (properly designed, properly tested) can be your friend. Automated recovery and security scripts are much less error prone than those done by people under stress. There are many automated tools and services that can help test and assess your security environment. Automated configuration management brings formal traceability – essential for the highest levels of reliability. Automated regression testing is a great tool to reduce the costs of testing in the longer term.
5. Test – Test for failure modes in both software and business process. Test at points of integration. Test around service and service failures. Test at, and beyond, a system’s capacity limits. Test security. Test recovery. Test testing.
6. Plan for Problems – Introduce a relevant level of risk management. Create plans for business continuity across technology systems and business processes. Understand what happens if a system fails, but also what happens if your team can’t get to the office, or a client declares a security issue.
7. Rehearse Invest in regular rehearsals of problem handling and recovery. Include a robust process for debriefing.
8. Anticipate and Gather Intelligence – For any undertaking of significance, understand potential issues and risks. Larger organisations will need to understand emerging security issues – from the small, technical and specific to more abstract global threats. Truly global organisations will need to sometimes understand patterns of weather – for example: to determine if transport systems are at threat. (I even once developed personal expertise in seismic science and volcanism.)
9.Respond – But finally acknowledge that there will be major issues that will happen, and such issues will often be unexpected. So, a team must focus on:
Simply accepting accountability, focusing on resolution and accepting the short-term personal consequences. It is what you are paid for.
Setting-up a management structure for the crisis, and trigger relevant business continuity plans
Setting up an expert SWAT team, including what is needed from suppliers.
How to report diagnosis and resolution – be accurate, be simple, avoid false optimism and be frequent
How to communicate with stakeholders in a way that balances information flow and the need for a core team to focus on resolution
How to handle media, if you are providing a public service
And after the problem is solved and the coffee machine is temporarily retired, how does the team learn
And finally a Toast …
In previous articles, I have acknowledged the Masters of Delivery I have come across in my varied career.
In this domain covered by this article, I have worked with people in roles such as“Global Asset Protection”, “Chief Information Security Officer” and teams across the world responsible for business continuity, security and engineering reliable cloud services. They work on the kind of activity that often goes unacknowledged when things go well – but in the emerging distributed and open future technology world, they are all essential. To me, these are unsung “Masters of Delivery.” Given this is the start of 2015, let’s raise a virtual glass in celebration of their work. We all benefit by it.
This is a longer version of an article originally posted on linkedin. Keith Haviland is a business and technology leader, with a special focus on how to combine big vision and practical execution at the very largest scale, and how new technologies will reshape tech services. He is a Former Partner and Global Senior Managing Director at Accenture, and founder of Accenture’s Global Delivery Network. Published author and active film producer, including Last Man on the Moon. Advisor/investor for web and cloud-based start-ups.