Why (most) Indians don’t get quality and how to get quality out of Indians?

I love India and Indians. I love every country for who they are. I am not being disrespectful to anyone in this post. I am being objective. I am not putting anyone down with this post. I don’t enjoy doing that. I am sharing my observations and inferences from it in this post with an aim to help people from India – become conscious about themselves and that helps in many ways to improve their quality understanding and focus at everything they do. People outside India : help understand why (most) Indians the way they are and how to get the best out of them when outsourcing work to them. Also to leaders who work with Indians on how to get high quality done.

Why Indians Love US of A?

There are wonderful places in this world. If Indians were seeking great places to live amidst nature – India has sufficient places that matches every other good place in the world. I visited Arunachal Pradesh and sent a pic to my friends. They asked me if I am touring Switzerland. So, Indians who move outside of India are not seeking great place to live. They are seeking a lifestyle. They are seeking opportunities. They are looking to lay a foundation for the future of their family.

Equally there are wonderful countries in the world such as New Zealand, Japan or Norway that have a great lifestyle and opportunities too but Indians aren’t as keen to settle in these countries as much as they are about USA.

Why?

Made in USA is a brand people from India highly respected for a long time. There is a charm of the US for majority of Indians. I have traveled there sufficiently and know many of my relatives who landed there for short term work stayed over there and some became citizens too.

What isn’t there in India that is in US of A?

India has everything but lacks 2 big aspects in many things that happens here – safety and quality in the products and experiences we build. If we speak of general safety, US is far more dangerous to live in with the Second Ammendement that lets people carry arms to protect themselves and that is being misused because people turn psycho and end up shooting kids at school and people at parties. With the increase of drugs to homeless people – I feel more safe to walk in India than in the US.

However, this particular article focuses on quality and safety of the products we build. The culture of safety and quality and in particular product quality because many safety related issues happen due to poor quality products.

How did Indians evolve to lack quality mindset?

Indians had a very high sense of quality long time ago. Ancient Indian architecture and tools recovered showcase an absolute sense of craftsmanship. The temples that live even today showcase engineering marvels during times we did not have the modern tooling and machines and on top of that no electricity. The art forms that existed in ancient India are studied now all across the globe by artists and scientists. The rangoli that women from India put even today has perfect symmentry and approaches that awes people of this world.

Tanjore Brihadeshwara Temple built by Cholas 1010 AD depicting high quality symmetry

The real question is where did we lose the sense of quality?

The Ancient Invasion & British Colonialism changed Indians mindset

In US of A, one big difference people from India notice when they land there is there is so little honking on the road. However, there is an exception though if you are in Downtown SanFrancisco. Why do people honk more in SFO than they do in other parts of Bay Area? Narrow roads, more density of cars and more people wanting to get through a cramped space.

This is what the Ancient Invasion and British Colonialism did. They choked people of space, money, opportunities and Indians became narrow minded to get through the same place they earlier breezed through. Not just narrow minded, the resources available were constrained and people behave their worst if there are 10 resources (not people, I mean) for 10000 people to consume. The demand was so high that even poor quality worked as long as a necessary resource was made available.

There have been countries that went through world war, bombing that has had economical and emotional stress on their people. Yet, this hasn’t seem to have negatively affected their sense of quality. Japanese products are globally considered top quality. While they were in war and had a very unfortunate bombing in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, their generations of people did not live in colonialism.

Source : https://tinyurl.com/percapcomp

It is clear that the countries that colonised others were growing better than the countries that were being colonised (then). However, what was not measurable is the mindset shift that has been driven down across generations because of colonialism.

My grandparents who lived both pre-independence and post, like many other people I know of from that generation had more than half a dozen kids and couldn’t afford to give their kids education, care, proper nutrition or parenting time. Their focus was to get basic money in so that all their kids could be fed. Their kids (my parents generation) were able to give us (my generation) basic education and basic nutrition but less of parenting time. Like most parents, my father was super busy working through all days of the week to keep the lights on and my mother was managing a large kitchen at house that fed our joint family. I am giving my daughter nutrition, parenting time, education, support systems to pursue her interests and hobbies.

Source : https://www.decisionskills.com/hierarchy-of-needs.html

As generations, we have moved up the value chain. Today’s generation are at the spot where Self Actualization is possible but with a trap of social media. Otherwise, today’s generation is the most progressive India has seen in the last 300 years.

My grand father’s goal was to feed everyone. My father, after food and shelter were sorted started to focus on innovation at his work. My brother and I were focused on innovation right at the start of our careers. My daughter is focusing on being creative and innovative since childhood.

My grand father didn’t have a problem sleeping anywhere. My father preferred a room. I preferred a certain kind of a room with decent bathroom. My daughter checks out the bathroom first when we visit the hotel to see if we are staying in a good place.

Indians now have good earning power and demand high quality when they are paying money but when building quality and maintaining it – they seldom fail.

The Trever Noah Concert Failure in Bangalore

Trever Noah has a huge fan base in India. My wife is a fan too and I tried to get tickets for his Bangalore show but failed. In hindsight I was blessed, I didn’t get the tickets – otherwise that day would have been a bad day in my life. Why? The event was poorly organized. People were ready to pay any amount of money and they did. Despite that the venue and acoustics failed. Trever Noah was felt embarassed that he had to cancel the show after going on stage for 10 minutes. People could hardly hear him. That’s for people who could reach the venue. Many were stuck outside in a poorly managed traffic jam and parking problems.

Why did this happen?

The venue chosen was bad. The testing of the acoustics was bad. Someone in the team of organizers probably pointed it out but the leadership failed to act on it because they were doing some personal favors to others. The organizers and the leadership there thought that – Indians would adjust – because that’s what they are trained to anytime they encounter poor quality.

To get an issue reported and rectified in India takes plenty of time and effort. Many of us (not just Indians) lack the discipline to follow up and close out issues. I followed up for an issue in our apartment lift for 9 months and got the company to acknowledge they had missed out a padding on the mount for the motor and then got it fixed. 9 months of persistence. Not many people have it. We learn to adjust. Why? We have other big problems in life to solve. What problems? Earning money. At what cost? That we don’t know until we encounter it.

Morbi Bridge Collapse

A 19th century bridge was closed because of safety concerns and was handed over to Oreva group for restoring safety and the maintenance of it. The holding capacity of the bridge was 125 but 500 people were allowed to be on the bridge 5 days after re-opening it in 2022. While the Oreva group and its Chairman was held responsible for this, the government, civic authorities and citizens have a role to play for this disaster.

Hundreds of lives and their future was robbed based on this incident. I feel sad as I write this because they all meant to live and fulfil many of their wishes and make progress for this country. Thankfully Supreme Court of India is doing a good job to hold all those accountable are punished but it is too late. Many lives are gone. To those and their family members – no amount of punishment to the guilty won’t bring the dead back.

Why would someone allow 500 people on a bridge whose max capacity is 125?

Possible answers

  • Money
  • Maximize profit
  • Short term gains
  • Willing to take risks
  • Lack of awareness of safety
  • Forced by civic authorities

Why do citizens go on to do something although a board warns them not to?

  • Lack of awareness of safety
  • Nothing has happened in the past when they violated safety
  • They don’t have time next week to visit the same place
  • Life is too short (and let us make it happen)
  • Many others are enjoying and how can we miss it out?
  • This should be safe enough
  • We survived Covid so what big deal

Boeing 737 Max 8 Crashes

By saying what I have said above, it doesn’t mean such stuff doesn’t happen in US of A or in other so called first world countries. Boeing – an American corporation that had an impeccable safety record built 737 Max 8 that had a fundamental flaw to over correct the nose position of an aircraft post take off. The MCAs (Manuevering Characteristics Augmentation System) was a new feature that killed more than 346 people. Airlines are subjected to extreme quality and safety checks. Despite all that – this incident happened. Goes to say that safety and quality is the most difficult to achieve, even to those who have produced it in the past.

Also to the IT folks reading this who celebrate rolling out a feature into production. It is actually easy to do it in today’s world. It is the safety and quality of the feature that we should be celebrating.

What are the traits of Indians that can lead to quality and safety?

Indians are one of the most disciplined folks in the world. Indians globally shine out of discipline and talent. Indians are hard workers. Indians are highly committed. Career is #1 priority for many Indians. Family is secondary to many. Even those who say my family is everything – other than buying gadgets for their family – they don’t do much about their health. Parents are ready to pay ton load of school fees because they can put their focus back on their career (also so that their kids can succeed in their careers). Career is their #1 priority.

India is super diverse. Indians thrive in diversity. Each State of India brings unique flavor to work. Each of them bring in a diverse thought process, unique strength to work. There are diverse set of difference of opinions among different State people but they ultimately work together.

Indian Military and Armed Forces knows this way better than anybody else in India. They bring the best out of Indians and build high quality and high safety for Indians by Indians. When there is a disaster in any State of India – the government and citizens bank on Indian Army to rescue.

Summary of strengths of Indians that can make them build high quality products

  • Discipline
  • Hard work
  • Goal oriented
  • Diversity
  • Each State’s thought process is one unique value in itself
  • Career oriented
  • Serious about work
  • Learning ability
  • Talent

What’s special about Indian Army that makes them high on Quality and Safety?

Purpose

Each armed forces personnel has a purpose to defend the country, save their own families living deep inside India and protect our nation. A strong purpose is required for Indians to build quality and safety. They need to work for that purpose. Otherwise, they just slack. The purpose of money to take care of family is short lived. Once that need is met many go lazy. The purpose has to go beyond themselves. Indians with purpose even in corporate world do way better than those purposeless “life is an ice cream, eat it before it melts” folks.

Alternating between war and peace zones

Indian Army puts their soldiers through both tough and easy conditions of living. The lifestyle in Armed forces is a mixed bag. Plenty of things are made easy. The assurance that the family gets is phenomenal. The benefits they get is pretty good. The assured retirement and pension is good. The education opportunities are fantastic. Those are the good things. The tough things they have to go through is that they are constantly disciplined and fitness need to be demonstrated very often. They need to alternate between peace zones and war zones. There is no comfort zone in the army. War can become a comfort zone too. So people are made to alternate. This is where the corporate world fails. Once Indians get used to comfort or war for long time – they are in comfort zone. A slight push to them internally – they want to quit the job and move to another place where the comfort exists.

Prevention as a focus

For the Indian Army – dealing with a bug in production is a disaster scenario. Why? This may result in losing our own Armed forces too. So the best is prevention of a bug in production. So protocols are for preventing an attack and not just defend when such an event slips through. The wiring in everyone’s brain is prevention. They see a value of prevention and the personal reward they have for prevention is – they can take their holidays to go see their families. In the corporate world – prevention as a focus is poor. Shift left has changed when people want to automate but hasn’t fixed the bugs in requirement or unit testing. In my 21 years of experience and having worked with diverse set of companies as an employee, consulted for several small, medium and large companies as a consultant and as a service provider of testing to many companies – I have seen very little of unit testing in practice. India is overloaded with front end automation even after seeing how flaky it is. Regression is the biggest job creator and retainer of semi talent.

Succeeding with outsourcing to Indians

Finding the missing jigsaw piece?

Cost was the major reason why the Western Countries used to outsource to India. That is possible only till the quality or safety trips. Cost even today is a major factor in many non critical work that is being outsourced to wherever in the world. With the focus of profitability even in the capitalistic world, the move towards producing work effeciently that doesn’t cost more money to maintain and of global quality standards is becoming difficult. Many top global organizations are setting up IT shops in Bangalore and other parts of India even today. There is plenty of engineering talent available today but getting quality out of them is a leadership and a culture trait. This is a big missing piece in India. Not just in India but across the world.

Why?

People grow up to be non leaders, self centered and leadership is a selfless goal. Just like being in Indian Army. One could lay their life and they don’t talk about down side and opportunity costs. Indian IT work force despite being paid well keep talking about the opportunity cost and downside. When such people graduate to be leaders – they take an immense old age to not become self focused. By that time most people’s energy is drained out. Even if there is wisdom there is no impact on the ground because it requires energy to execute a vision and translate it into reality.

Solution 1 : What should C level do?

Every organization should identify a group of selfless souls who deliver and groom them to be leaders of the company. These people have better stickiness and long term value focused. They naturally build a good culture. How do we identify them? They love seeing everyone around them grow. They see their success as a collective success of everyone around them plus their own contribution to it. They are humble people. Their ambitions are balanced. By that I mean, it is high but don’t get carried away by seeing others seemingly higher ambition or growth. They play all sides. They balance between their reports, the customers they serve and the organization that employed them. Identifying such hidden gems in the company is important. When people on the ground know this type of people are being rewarded – they all aspire to become that.

Tip : Indians are great at building skills that gets the reward. You reward a show off – suddenly you will discover many people have that talent. Instead – you reward kindness – even the seemingly unkind people bring the kinder versio of them. It is not just one trait that matters here. It is a combination. Every organization has and needs a different combination.

Summary list of things for the C level to do

  • Identify humble leaders who deliver
  • Reward quality and safety than shipping features
  • Appreciate the quality – not the hardwork
  • Talk revenue goals with your board and quality goals with your employees
  • Drive quality and safety goals with your direct reports

Solution 2 : What should the board do?

The board should recognize that the C level people are smart enough to show any numbers that the board demands. However, when the stock goes through too many up down cycles either due to bad press of the quality and safety of the product, the compensation for the C level should not just be based on the revenues and bottomline. The compensation for C level folks should be a combination of those two obvious metrics plus the quality and safety of the products they are building. Why? A poor quality or a poor safety product selling very high is a big stock disaster waiting to happen. If the board is appointed by shareholders to care for them short, medium and long term – they should focus on long term with the focus on quality.

This focus of board on quality and safety then influences every contract signed by the C level and V level folks to focus on quality. This will change the partners these C level and V level folks would choose. Even in today’s world – the bidder with least cost gets the project. This is detrimental to long term stock value growth.

When outsourcing to an Indian IT services firm – there should be a success fee dedicated for a certain quality and safety record. Today’s success is determined by features rolled to production and then managing the regression that results as an accumulated tech debt. This is sad and depressive. If I were an alien to this Earth and looked at how people were structuring their contracts, I would never want to visit Earth again.

Summary list of things for the board to do

  • Don’t just focus on revenue and bottomline goals for C level
  • Compensation for C level should be based on quality and safety records too
  • Contracts should have quality goals
  • Success for for quality as lucrative as for shipping a feature
  • Focus towards least maintenance cost and superior customer experience

Solution 3 : What should the org culture and vision be?

Dirty truth : Most employees don’t know to translate a fancy vision and mission statement into reality. This is why everyone executes their own vision of quality, safety and customer care. If someone truly has a superior vision then their vision has to be executed by everyone else in the company. Such companies produce high quality products over an extended period of time.

In Moolya, we kept coming up with fancy statements that make me, a C level person, sound cool to others. Only after several years passed by I realized that I myself can’t remember all of what I said and then shrunk it to 2 simple words : Prevent bugs. Everyone in the company today gets it. At least in their minds. Executing it is a bigger beast to tame but the foundation step is laid.

To those who outsource – the communication of the need and the RFP should carry vision and mission for the project or problem statement and the strategy should be demonstrated on how they would be able to execute it. We experimented with this and saw a huge success being created for our customers’ customer. This made our customer love us deeply. The places where we did not do it – has an intermittent love of our customer towards us. So, there’s the difference.

I wish to take the next step towards putting a quality goal bonus in employee contracts but am sure there will be a backlash for it from my own people but through this conversation with them I will find a mid path that is progressive to everyone.

Summary list of what culture and vision be?

  • Simplify the vision and mission
  • Everyone should be able to communicate the vision and mission
  • Every employee should have a quality goal to achieve as a part of their KRA
  • People should be driven towards the purpose

Solution 4: What should people on the ground do?

When the board, C level, V level and culture is changing – the best thing to adapt. Resisting change and wanting to quit because of the change to find the next comfort zone is detrimental to one’s long term career prospects. Apple hardly recruits for top leadership roles from the market. The Director and Vice President level folks are mostly picked from their own employee pool. They make phenomenal money in stock. Everyone is tied to the long term in Apple.

Bringing in a cultural change is not just a responibility of the top level executives. Every responsible employee holds the key to it. In my first job, I spotted a process flaw that people were oblivious too and informed the Director there and they fixed it. Some of my colleagues were trying to tell me not to do this because it might backfire on my job. It actually did backfire. I became this person I am who believes in getting broken things fixed for the betterment of the world.

Summary of what should people on ground do?

  • Get uncomfortable
  • Be open to a better change for the future
  • Today’s discomfort and a future comfort is a way better life
  • Persist to get a problem fixed
  • Focus on value to customers
  • Stop celebrating hard work unless it is coupled with quality
  • Ask money for quality and not hard work
  • Ask money for bringing a big change and not for sacrificing weekends

Semi final thoughts

Thanks for traveling this far. There are many pieces that need to come together to bring this change and there are orgnizations like Moolya who have recognized the need for it both from the customer perspective and from the service provider perspective. Even many employees recognize this change but probably don’t know to communicate it.

The world is at a critical point and the change has to come now. Quality and safety in a post A.I. world will become quint essential but what will prevent us to get to the post A.I. world shall be quality.

What I have shared here is not a utopian view of how the world should be. It is actually indeed how some parts of the world already is and that the majority of the world should catch up to it. The best high quality products Indians have built stand today as a testimony to what is truly possible. The focus here is to find ways to decrypt what made them high quality and bring it to scale and most importantly at a scale of India.

Top high quality tech products Indians should be proud of

  1. Hotstar : for achieving concurrency and quality at mind blowing scale the world had not seen.
  2. Cred : for the design and experience that made many people tweet about their onboarding experience.
  3. PhonePe : 500 Million transactions per month and becoming the number 1 payment app built out of India
  4. Zerodha : 4.5 L crore of money being transacted through the platform.
  5. Zoho : Built in India for the world.

My Indian friends will be immediately be excited to think, “Oh, Pradeep, these are buggy too”. That’s another trait of an Indian when it comes to quality. If I had put these companies down – they would want to show – how great these are and if I put them in highlight – they want to show – how bad these are.

Those Indians who cut through these noise – produce high quality products. The density of such people should increase and hopefully this post helps at least recognize why things are happening the way they are and a hypothesis of life when fixed from some of my personal experience.

Every citizen of every country should find what is their strength and weakness and convert the weakness into strength and strength into super power.

As a final semi final thought : Quality of life is what everyone is seeking. To get there, they need to build that into everything others will use.

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