It’s almost universally accepted as a truism that Indian technical workforces have a fraction of the productivity of European ones and with much lower quality. My own experience tells me that that’s not true – and certainly not universally so. But even if it were, we’ve been here before.

Taiichi Ohno observed that in 1937 (Toyota Production System: Beyond Large-scale Production), it was said that a German worker could produce three times as much as a Japanese one, and the German – American ratio was also 1:3. Therefore, it took nine Japanese workers to produce as much as an American one; and that was only an average value.

In 1945, Kiichirō Toyoda — then president of the Toyota Motor Company — set the company the challenge of catching up with the Americans in 3 years: a nine or tenfold improvement. I’m sure I don’t need to ask whether they succeeded, and improved quality by orders of magnitude while doing so.

With this history, I think that there’s no a-priori reason why Indian software teams cannot improve by significant amounts, and outclass European competitors. But I don’t believe that it will happen by simply mimicking existing development approaches — even Agile ones. As Edward Deming noted: “Best efforts and hard work only dig deeper the pit we’re in.”

Like Ohno, we will need to develop and engrain new methods, through looking at the problem differently and radically changing how we do things.

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Martin Burns

Transformation Consultant at CA Inc (formerly Rally)
Previously: Leader of software delivery portfolios in large scale orgs.
Specialism: Transforming complex delivery organisations to be more Lean/Agile.
Mindset: Continuous Improvement Obsessive
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