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Managing super talent and developing world-class product - A non-trivial task!

Venkat Mattela
Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Venkat Mattela
Having managed some of the most complex products in high technology areas, I strongly feel that there is no better place to find talented engineers than in India. However, there is also a perception that the very same engineer has the least inclination or motivation to make a world-class delivery. Another anomaly is that the same engineer, working in any of the developed geographies, contributes to world-class work quality. Furthermore, for the size and scope of high technology work that takes place in India, number of technology products coming out of this region is not very encouraging. What are the potential reasons?

“A great product is created not just with the aid of inherent talent of individuals but with a collective passion of likeminded people who are motivated enough to excel in their profession”. “At some point of time during the execution of a project, individual talent becomes almost irrelevant compared to other process and experience related items” – my own view point.

Creating an environment to build products requires progress in multiple fronts. I am going to touch upon some of the issues that we have experienced. Again, these are not golden rules that work in all environments. In India, we have seen a huge change in compensation structure of professionals in the last 20 years. For example, today’s fresh graduate’s monthly salary is more than a manager’s salary two decades ago. Though much of it is explained through proper economic models, unlike in developed regions across the globe, the difference in compensation is huge across different disciplines. This creates an environment where one discipline is considered superior over the others. A world-class product development requires experts working in all disciplines. Furthermore, we have different types of enterprises whose compensation structures vary drastically. These enterprises include – entities trying to support MNCs with talent, companies providing technology services, divisions of MNCs, startups trying to develop design centers in India to save costs etc. Gross disparity in salary structure across companies coupled with disparity of salary for different disciplines will create an environment that is not stable for world-class product development. Today, a lot of quality engineering work towards product development happens in India. However, engineering work is a small part of the total product development cycle. Other areas of product development involves studying and understanding current and future markets, deciding what to do, why to do and when to do. Developing skills in these other product development areas requires a lot of money, expertise and infrastructure and it takes many decades to master them. Key points to note are – How do we motivate engineers to excel in their jobs and how to motivate them to stay longer to achieve something bigger; What infrastructure is needed inside and outside the company to help build a better environment and most importantly how do we get experienced managers to execute products in India.

In India, staying at a company for a longer period of time depends on many complex cultural and social factors than merely compensation. I believe India is a society that still respects technology more than marketing or sales development. Scientists are respected more than sales people. This mindset is different in developed countries where any job well done is appreciated independent of area of work. I see even today people more interested in design work and less interested in doing other areas of product development like system validation. Removing this cultural gap requires many years of success stories of companies. Today, our engineers have seen only the differences in salaries of one particular discipline over the other. They need to see more companies making success stories and more engineers independent of discipline making more money. In Silicon Valley, the salary gaps across various disciplines are small and when a company succeeds everyone becomes successful. This is a great environment to make people excel in whatever area they are good at and automatically creates experts in multiple areas, it in turn creates a society that is conducive to create world-class products. In India, challenging technical environment coupled with highly qualified managers to guide does help to start this process. We have engineers working with us who joined us just after their graduation and continuing with us until today. Smart engineers see beyond short term gains and position themselves for accelerated future growth. In my opinion, I have never seen an outsider overtake an insider independent of any qualification for higher position. Most CEOs of successful companies on the planet are home grown!

Creating product development experience in India is a challenge. Experience in India is measured by number of years independent of the expertise gained. I genuinely believe that experience is grossly misunderstood and especially so when people relate salary to number of years of work experience. Product development experience comes from involving in the profession for a longer time and seeing the product succeed in the market. Having a proven design methodology and expert managers are key to building experience across the company. Typical problem in building experience in India is the fact that the attractions of other jobs or other opportunities as soon as you expose an individual to something close to world-class work. We have seen many smart students when exposed to some of the advanced work went to top notch universities for higher studies within a year instead of building valuable experience for their career. Qualified and experienced managers managing the show are one sure way of building experience. Furthermore, echo-system of institutions can help industry by creating joint programs related to product development. This will help in accelerating experience building process.

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