Sunday, April 13, 2008

Understanding Captive Centre Dynamics

We had one interesting issue that came up recently with one of our Fortune 500 account- We won this customer after a lot of homework (their Indian captive centre was not given this work!). This is typical of any large organization where they give certain set of projects to captive centres and certain set to vendors- The alignment between the headquarters and the captive centre itself is a challenge. I assume, that this US arm of our customer had given the project to us without consulting the Indian arm decision makers (as they were not present in the decision making at all)- We were completely oblivious of these things and continued our own way of delivering the project.

Our team started working on the implementation plan and they were collaborating constantly with the US arm stakeholders and things were totally fine. The US arm stakeholder wanted our team to work extensively with the Indian captive centre and we were completely fine with that arrangement as well. This project demanded understanding of the customer proprietary environment for us to configure and install the final version- This is quite natural for any vendor to ask for details related to the environment. Our project manager asked for a face-to-face session(termed as “training”) from a stakeholder who is working in the Indian captive centre- Since it involved some expenses, this Indian stakeholder sent an email asking for expense approval from the US stakeholder. The US stakeholder forwarded the same email to the Indian captive centre head of that practice- Now the whole issue started because the practice head looked at the term “training” and escalated to the US head stating that the vendor does not know what he is supposed to do.

The practice head went to the extent of cancelling the whole contract because of a wrong usage of the word, “training” by one of our project managers. It is really frustrating and disappointing for us after having done 60% of the project to be in this state because of us not understanding the overall politics and it was a great lesson. The price of this lesson was obscenely expensive but it really taught us certain dynamics that exist between captives and the headquarter companies.

In a snapshot, whenever any consulting company is dealing with a customer that has a captive centre, it is super important to understand the priorities of the captive centre. The following steps would be useful:
1. Meet the particular captive centre head for that particular practice and if possible explain to them why you were selected in the first place. This can be a ego alleviating thing as well as building networks for future collaboration.
2. Set expectation with the US stakeholder on collaboration with the captive centre resources- Also get an introduction with the right people in India!
3. Direct your team to be extremely careful and sensitive on dealing with captive centre resources- Its important for them to collaborate but they need to be cautious
4. Make sure that you get the common goals/success criteria for the project from the US stakeholder clearly
5. Circulate the common goals/success criteria of the project to everyone so that there is no room for anyone to point something that does not align with the common goals

In my experience, this is the most bizarre way of cancelling a contract- One can cancel a contract if they feel the common goals/success criteria of the project is not met and ideally that should be basis; This was sidelined and nobody looked at the deliverables or the quality of the deliverables!

This was really disappointing for us and our mistake on hindsight was clearly:
1. Not meeting the Indian captive centre head for that particular practice
2. Not circulating the common goals/success criteria with the captive centre resources
3. Wrong usage of certain words (specifically “training”) by our project managers