'Project management is about people management'

Last Updated : 08 March 2022, 02:13 IST
Last Updated : 08 March 2022, 02:13 IST

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Gayathri J Gopal
Gayathri J Gopal

Women professionals are a rarity in Indian realty. Teams run and staffed by women, even more so. But Gayathri J Gopal and her all-women project management team at Vestian in Bengaluru is a welcome exception to the rule.

She is currently the vice president and country head project management services for India at Vestian, a commercial real estate firm with offices around the globe.

Gayathri, 36, recently won the PMO Global Alliance’s India PMO leader of the year award and is in contention for the global awards to take place later this year.

The drive for diversity and inclusion is also driven by the international clients that the company works with, who push for it. “A woman heading an important function ticks quite a few boxes,” she says.

One of those women is Subashini Mahalingam, who has more than two decades of experience in the construction industry. She was "always passionate about creating something, giving form to concept" which inspired her to continue working in the field.

There were also the practical aspects. “Project management is people management, and women are a lot more meticulous and detail-oriented,” Gayathri says.

The concept of “shadow in” — colleagues who can step in for each other — allows for work to go on undisrupted, in case someone has to take a leave of absence due to an emergency.

But things didn’t come easy for this civil engineering graduate. Her first job involved working on-site, with colleagues who were often patronising.

When Gayatri joined Vestian, she had to work with people much senior to her.

There was an initial period of friction but things smoothed out. “As long as you convey that you want to work together, that others’ strengths are not a threat but complement my weakness, we can work together,” she says.

The push and support from the senior management, “the diktat from the top” as Gayathri puts it, also helped.

But are there any broad management lessons for other working professionals?

‘Lead from the back’

“You cannot dictate anything,” Gayathri says. What has helped her is to create an “entrepreneurial mindset” down to the grassroots of the organisations and get people to cultivate a sense of ownership towards their work.

“Often, this means leading from the back,” she says.

And the sense of ownership is reflected in the way incentives are paid out at Vestian.

"The performance of the project is judged first and then we get down to the individual level,” she says.

A key aspect of meeting their tight deadlines is that leaders at various levels are empowered to make decisions.

Another undervalued aspect is planning. Gayathri says her team takes more time to plan a project, breaking down the project so it is understood by everyone, including the labour onsite.

In all, there are 3,000 people working in project management at Vestian, including 1,000 at the level of project services.

‘Freedom to fail’

Another work culture that Gayathri and her teammates have benefited from is being given the “freedom to fail”.

"We believe and do things differently. Women are given equal opportunity across the board, which allows for gender neutral growth and leadership by skills”, says Manisha Kapoor, an architect who works with the PM Operations team at Vestian.

“When something does go wrong, the management comes in with the attitude of empowering you and ensuring you don’t repeat that mistake,” she says.

And when in doubt, each employee at Vestian is trained to put the project first, and the job roles and responsibilities fall into place.

“You learn to deal with people as the situation demands. As long as you are goal-focused, you wade through people,” Gayathri says.

Published 07 March 2022, 12:20 IST

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