Following is an excerpt from Tactical Reflection Sheet dated May 28,2020. This was Akshay Vikas’ last reflection at Indus Action. All the actioners reflect on the week that went by every Thursday in the Tactical Reflection Sheet and it is sacrosanct to us. Every week there are different sets of questions but the objective remains the same: reflection and deep-diving into the week that went by. It also gives us the opportunity to share all the opportunities and obstacles in the past week and a platform for everyone to support each other.
It is my final week here at the end of what has been a 2.5-year long journey of managing products at Indus Action(IA). This reflection is likely to be a little excessive. Please indulge me this one last time.
I started here in January 2018 when there were less than 20 members in the team. I began with a lot of energy and passion, but with no clue about what it takes to succeed here. I was extremely intimidated by the talent and determination of the team, everyone seemed to be talking in a language that I didn’t understand. I barely spoke to anyone in the first two months. Things turned around when I did my first Tactical* (which was interestingly a capacity building exercise in Government Relations) and when I made the transition to the technology team. Fast forward to today, I feel like I am a completely different individual. Product Managers are often called the ‘mini-CEOs’ of the organisation, and I am so glad that I have been consistently trusted to lead this domain for the Indus Action mission. I have this organisation and its leadership to thank for the absolutely incredible journey it has taken me through.
In terms of what I am feeling right now, I think the predominant emotion is that of relief, and not just because I am going to derive immense pleasure from exiting 100+ IA Whatsapp Groups – I can say with confidence that I have been able to contribute here to the best of my abilities and have taken a fair number of projects to a logical conclusion. I have not let the passion die down, even when I have had differences or disagreements with other team members. I believe this organisation is driven primarily by the passion of its team, and I certainly hope that this continues to be the case many years down the line.
In Picture: Akshay with the Technology Team
What went well
1. We built a team! – We started with a team of 3, which came down to 2. Over the next year, we added Priya, Pankaj, Vaibhav, Madhu then Banchan, Abhishek, Navdeesh and finally our commander-in-chief Bhargavi. In the space of 6 months, this team went on to manage 4 big MIS projects in Haryana, Tamil Nadu, Chhattisgarh and Uttarakhand, built Campaign Management System(CMS) once again from scratch and completed a prestigious Tech4Dev grant project. This time last year, the Technology function was the biggest in the organisation. Attrition issues notwithstanding, working with this incredible bunch of people has been the highlight of my Indus journey, and I can say with certainty that 100% of my successes have been a direct consequence of the hard work and creativity of our developers. I learnt what it means to be a manager, turns out it isn’t very different from being an older brother!
2. I traveled the country – Google tells me that in the year 2019 alone, I traveled across 25 cities and covered a total of 44,426 kms (which is equivalent to a trip around the world). I did about 70 trips outside Delhi for IA over the course of my tenure. Highlights include trips to Leh, Agartala and Dehradun. Being the face of IA & IA Technology Team in these trips is something I deeply cherish.
3. The sheer scale of our impact – Supporting the Data Warehouse project gave me a peek into the scale of the lives we have been able to impact – close to 6 lakh applications on the MIS to date, over 1.5 lakh admissions and about 2.5 lakh beneficiaries and 5 lakh transactions on CMS 1.0 and 2.0. Each of these numbers represent lives impacted (directly or tangentially) by our work and that gives me a feeling of immense pride.
4. I learnt that I can facilitate – I have facilitated or co-facilitated close to 30 Tactical sessions and about 6 PEN Calls**. Not all of them turned out great, but it helped me overcome a lifelong fear of speaking in public and remains one of my most creative pursuits to date. Some of the most memorable ones include the Tactical of Government Relations, Artfully Tactical, Techfully Tactical and my final Covid Rapid Response Strategy Call on User-Centric Design.
5. I learnt to face myself – Perhaps my most significant takeaway from this journey has been the process of institutionalised reflection and emotional awareness. The frameworks of adaptive leadership and deliberately developmental organisations are things I will want to carry forward outside of this organisation. I massively respect everyone who has been involved in pushing this inside the team.
What did not go well
1. All the exits – Each friend’s exit represented a strong relationship that existed outside just work, and I felt a little part of my personality go away after each farewell. I do hope that I work with some of these individuals in the future.
2. Not being able to build enough government ownership for Right to Education sec12(1)(c) – Across states, we have not been able to build enough ownership for governments to firmly take over the reins of Right to Education sec12(1)(c) implementation. Most officials continue to see the provision as compliance and have rarely moved beyond their own narratives on inclusive schools. The fact that we continue to host the MIS application (at our own cost) in most of our active MIS states*** is just one indicator of this.
3. My experiments with capacity building within the team – I think I did not do well at all on this front, and this remains the most significant disappointment in my journey here. I blame this mostly on my own deficiencies in communication and patience. I believe I would have approached this problem statement very differently if I had to do it all over again.
4. Institutionalising a uniform software and data process in the team – The data and software process documents were my first significant outcomes when I took up the Tech role. I learnt that implementing a rigorous process is much, much harder than designing it. I am, however, encouraged by recent developments, and am glad that there is consensus in the team for the need to prioritise this.
In the last month or so, I have been really concerned about the legacy I leave this organisation with. I have thought of myself primarily as a solution-designer in the organisation, and my biggest hope is that some of my designs persist over the long haul. If at any point of time in the future you’re thinking about a problem statement and are reminded of something I said / wrote, I would have served my purpose on this mission.
*Tactical is a call scheduled every Friday morning where all actioners come together to discuss and deliberate on any organisation related opportunities and challenges and is a platform for everyone to share any insights from the reflections written on Thursday.
**PEN Call is a call scheduled every Monday morning where the entire Indus Action network comprising all the employees, partner entrepreneurs, alumni, civic champions etc comes together to brainstorm on various operational structures and practices across states. It is a platform for collective learning and knowledge sharing.
***MIS States: Indus Action provides end to end EDMIS solutions for admissions under the provision to states across India in varying capacities. The MIS solutions have enabled an increase in beneficiary reach by a factor of 10, an increase in school choice by a factor of 7, increased administrative ease of implementation by reducing work hours by as much as 80% at 0.001% of the annual government expenditure on the policy.