The projects and challenges were diverse, but the process we adopted was pretty much the same. I remember a client working for a tools and logistics company who was hard to please and never satisfied, no matter what we did. Her requirements kept changing and she was never quite clear about what she wanted. Eventually, when most of my team mates were on the verge of giving up on her, we decided to go to her workplace, hoping for more clarity. That is when we understood that the nature of her work itself was quick changing and therefore the fluctuating demands. We decided to make room for these changes by allotting more time for them. Moreover, interacting with her and her team at the place of work helped us to understand their requirements completely, and therefore we were finally able to give her the results she was looking for. It was then that I understood that a project is successful only if everyone is happy, whatever the time taken and technique used.
The lessons I learn from this experience held me in good stead in my life too. I began to look for clarity in the goals or projects that confronted me, whether it was helping my children find the perfect music teacher, or to organise a party for my husband’s colleagues. Instead of doing it my way, I spoke to the parties involved as to what were their expectations and what they wanted and why they wanted it. Then I would apply myself to achieving the goal to the satisfaction of all parties. The more I thought about it, the more I realised that life itself is a massive project, or rather a series of ever changing projects that we need to manage. At work, our projects were never static; they kept changing as circumstances changed and we needed therefore to apply ourselves to the changing demands. Isn’t that true of life too? You start your day with nothing more complex to resolve than what to cook for dinner only to find your children’s school calling you to tell you that your son has fallen from the slide and hurt himself, or to have an army load of relations descend on you for a visit. Life keeps changing and in order to manage it effectively, we need to be flexible, accepting and creative, just as I would be at work.
The success of these minute projects will not add up to the success of a life unless we are clear about our orientation towards life. What do I want from life? What is going to be my attitude towards life? What are my priorities? What is going to make me happy?
In all projects, the process needs to be understood completely in order to do a good job. In any project, the first thing people are asked to do is to understand the requirements and make a plan for making sure that they can achieve the required results. The real issue in life, however, is that most of us do not know what we want. As there is no clarity on what the requirement is, many of us keep getting lost, moving from one direction to another.
And the reason for this is because we do not understand what truly makes us happy. Often, this is not easy; the answers are revealed to us in the process of living life. And even then only if we are alert and aware and listen to the promptings of our heart and soul to understand what makes us happy. Slowly as clarity dawns, our capacity to draw out a project plan strengthens, always keeping in mind that the plan will need to be accommodated to the changing circumstances.
In order to understand the process needed, I have traced the journeys of a few people who seem to have managed the project of their lives with remarkable success.
Understanding the requirement
In the parlance of project management, the first step is to understand one’s requirement completely and make a plan for achieving it, no matter how difficult this may seem at first. People are taught that nothing is impossible, and all one needs to do is to explore the options, of which usually there are many. This is similar to life itself. Manikandan Pattabiraman, or Mani, from Bangalore, is a 35-year-old self-taught farmer/gardener living in Bengaluru, India. His proclivity for plants began when he was in the third class in Chennai. He used to help his father plant saplings of tomatoes and brinjal. Eventually, it became his passion and his home was loaded with 100-odd pots growing veggies and ornamental plants.
Gardening took a break once he started college and launched his career as an on-the-move software engineer. But his passion called out to him and in 2008, he restarted his gardening. At that time, he could not get any information on gardening or the availability of materials on the internet that was relevant to India. Sensing a need which he could fulfil through his twin skills in software and gardening, he started a website: http://geekgardener.in, for both novice and experienced gardeners. Eventually, many started asking him for tips on the cultivation of specific crops. Learning all the time from others, he started adding more posts about vegetables that included step-by-step pictures of the process from planting to harvesting the crop.
Saurabh Hooda is another 35-year-old software engineer from Delhi who too managed to ford a serendipitous link between his work and his passion. He had been reading books for more than a decade. He observed that after a book had been read, it was dumped into a storage box which meant it was practically dead, and of no use to anyone. He started feeling guilty at the thought that a book that had given him so much was left to suffocate in a storage box. He wondered why people could not borrow from or lend to other readers in the neighbourhood, instead of everyone having to buy their own copies. He also discovered that whenever he met someone who had read the book that he had, there would be an instant connect that he terms “a magical moment”.
Despite a post graduate degree in business management, Delhi-based Ravi Gulati (47), threw up a corporate career in Canada and returned to India. Exploring new possibilities, he found himself pursuing a six-month-long hands-on course in Environment Education from CEE, Ahmedabad, and was then involved with Trees for Life (later HIMCON), an NGO working with rural Himalayan communities.
Because his elder sister had multiple disabilities, she went to one of the first integrated schools in Delhi. Ravi’s mother, Indira, volunteered at that school for almost 20 years, after which she worked for 10 years in another institute that worked with even more severely challenged children. In 1996, Indira, at the age of 62, and after the demise of her husband to cancer, decided to begin Manzil in Kotla Mubarakpur, Delhi, along with a family friend and with Ravi’s help. This was an integrated and inclusive school for a spectrum of special pre-school students, including struggling learners and children yet to be admitted into mainstream schools. During afternoons, it doubled as a stitching and tailoring school as well as an adult education centre for the young mothers of these children and others. In a sense, right from inception, Manzil attempted to actualise the oft-repeated slogans, “equal education for all students” and “all students have abilities and talents.”
Ravi, in the meanwhile, had decided to settle down in a remote hill village and become an organic farmer. Life, as it often happens, had other plans. When he was still at home in 1997, a washerman’s son studying in the 8th class and his friend, a gardener’s son, approached him for help in their school maths. Ten minutes with the children unravelled their dubious understanding of numbers. The children were clearly bright and intelligent, but somehow they had been dumbed down by how they were taught at school. Over the weeks and months that followed, the two students asked to include their friends until there were 20 children from various classes; all together because irrespective of the class they were in, all lacked the same basic understanding of what they had been doing for years. Once when Ravi was explaining the mnemonic, BODMAS (Brackets Order Divide Multiply Add Subtract), for the third time for the benefit of a newcomer, one of them protested. He had already understood it well, and wanted to move on. “In that case,” Ravi said to him, “I invite you to explain BODMAS to your friend”. After some persuasion and promises of back-up support, he reluctantly agreed to try his hand at teaching and, unknowingly to even Ravi then, the foundation of a crucial aspect of life at Manzil was laid, which is that students taught each other. This is the way Ravi moved into education, almost without any plan to do so. It almost seemed as if the universe had conspired to make education the passion of his life.
Young people today pursue their dreams as soon as they get them. A case in point is 22-year-old Prisiliya Madan who set out to discover the country by bicycle, from Panvel, 50 km from Mumbai, in December 2015. Young Prisiliya had always loved travelling, which made her cycling trip a natural next step. She trained herself, but did not map out an exact itinerary. One of her missions was to understand the culture of the people and places she met. So she decided to stay wherever she could and set off.
As we can see, everyone who had a sincere dream to do something started working towards it diligently.
As Dadashree, a spiritual master and the founder of MaitriBodhPariwar says, “No matter what dream you want to fulfil, irrespective of it conflicting with the mainstream life, one has to prepare oneself in and out totally to be able to experience it in reality.”
Unlike regular management where the steps usually remain the same, in project management, there is always a need to re-examine if what we thought and assumed first remains valid. This makes it similar to life where things keep changing dynamically all the time.
After registering his centre at Khan Market and educating the children there, Ravi pondered on the purpose of education, especially for the children who came to him. He understood that the parents of his children sent them to school primarily to help them get good jobs, Ravi realised that it was not just maths but a knowledge of English that would dramatically improve their chances of landing good jobs. Hence, he started classes in spoken English, which the children slowly began to master. He also started offering multiple classes at various levels in maths, English, computers, music, painting, dance, and theatre. To popularise these offerings, he also created a website: http://manzil.in/. Thanks to the more pragmatic approach to education, the children of Manzil flourished. Having made a clear difference to their lives, Ravi is a happy man. He says, “I always wanted to do something significant in life. Manzil gave me the human connect I was looking for.” Manzil has indeed given Ravi his manzil (destination).
Prisiliya had a fabulous journey. A Facebook page – titled ‘I’ ‘P’ride’ helped her friends and family stay updated on the progress of her solitary pilgrimage. During her 19 days on the road, she passed through lonely stretches on the Western Ghats, but never faced any threat despite riding alone. Pedalling helped increase her ‘patience’ and even her public speaking skills. She spoke to the girls of at least three colleges in Kerala, impressing on them the need to look beyond academic excellence, and to embark on journeys of their own.
Mani left his job in 2013 and started a company to promote urban vegetable gardens, and provide consultations to people who wished to take this up. He also started a store, Garden Guru, to make all the gardening material available to gardeners. His website, http://geekgardener.in, is also kept updated all the time. Despite the multiple demands on his time. Mani is a happy man, for he loves what he does.
In order to connect book readers in every neighbourhood across the globe so that they too could feel those ‘magical moments’, Saurabh started Lenro (https://lenro.co) using his technical prowess to create it in a user-friendly manner.
A successful project is one in which all stakeholders are happy with the outcome.
“Deep happiness can only be found if we dissolve the false dichotomy of either me or others and become a part of a ‘collective self’ without any boundaries,” says Ravi. As a child, he had played cricket in the neighbourhood with children from all backgrounds (even though he says he had the ‘good’ sense to discern who he could take home and who he couldn’t). Now that he was old enough to understand the context of his ‘don’t-take-home’ friends, he ‘saw’ their lives anew. Years later, he read a Sri Lankan social worker’s words that he completely resonated with, “You build the road, and the road builds you”.
After spending 18 nights during her 1,800 km journey and living in the homes of strangers, Prisiliya reached the Southern tip of the country on January 5th , 2016. She had learnt what it meant to be alone and to make friends wherever she went. Most of all, she had become extremely confident and courageous.
Although Mani is now focussed fully on his passion, he has not left software completely, He still writes apps to help himself in gardening and hydroponics. He is also working on apps related to gardening which he will be releasing soon. This balance between software and gardening has made him completely content with life.
Saurabh too left his job and is now completely focussing on Lenro. “Our dreams are the milestones to our passion. Once you have the dreams, you don’t have to chase them, your dreams will chase you. They will wake you up early in the morning and will not let you sleep,” he says passionately.
The journey continues
The primary difference between a management project and the project of life is that life as a project is neverending. One dream leads to another and hence, the requirements keep expanding.
The more we focus on what we can do and not on what we cannot do, our life is bound to expand and grow. This is the way of the universe, whether we call it serendipity, grace, karma, or the Law of Attraction.