Mon, Feb 29, 2016

Internship Experience

(This is an extract from the project work of Ishaan Singh (IITK/MBA/17), Kartik Bajaj (IITK/MBA/17),
Meenal Gupta (IITK/MBA/17), and Saikat Chatterjee (IITK/MBA/17) under the supervision of
Professor Rahul Varman, Head, Department of Industrial and Management Engineering, IIT Kanpur
“The five separate fingers are five independent units. Close them and the fist multiplies strength.
This is organization.”

-James Cash Penney
Indian Railways is one of the largest networks in the world, with 8.3 billion passengers travelling from one place to another annually. Not only is the service provided by this primary national mode of transport huge and complex, but also critical. Millions of people rely on this service for travelling from one place to another, whether for work, or for excursions, or any other emergency. It is the primary mode of transport for various important goods across the country like raw materials, oil, food, industrial products and what not. We can say that directly or indirectly, Indian Railways is one crucial factor on which the economy of the country depends. This organization of national importance is made up of various small modules. The efficient working of this organization is possible only with the efficient working of all its subsidiaries. Our project is to study the operations at Kanpur Central Railway Station, which is also a subsidiary organization of the Indian Railways, that records traffic of more than 150,000 passengers, and more than 280 trains a day. There are a plethora of widely varying tasks taking place at the station, from cleaning of the trains to filling up of water, from food being cooked and served in a timely manner to loading various goods in the train, from the exchange of duties of drivers and guards to the readiness of the emergency situations, enormously large number of important tasks simultaneously take place at the station. Through this project, we have tried to understand the defined rules and procedures, problems and paradoxes, challenges and contingencies, so as to get a holistic view of the organization and understand the complications experienced and overcome by the same. We have also tried to apprehend the strengths and weaknesses of the organization through our interaction with various stakeholders associated with it. This study is a tribute to those associated with the Indian Railways, who work hard with passion and pride for the people of our nation, dedicate their life for our safety and security and with efficient hands and ever alert eyes keep the “Lifeline of India” ticking. Indian Railways as an organization runs by defined and codified rules and procedures which are followed throughout the country across the whole network. The organization is divided into divisions and subdivisions with a modular structure based upon clear division of labour. Each and every section is properly organized with defined hierarchy, responsibilities and command of authority yet integrated with each other through continuous exchange of information, timely coordination and working for the common goal of serving the public and industry 24 hours a day,30 days a month, 12 months a year and year after year. “..No matter what happens each one of us knows the kind of responsibility we have and the impact of our committing mistake… we take pride in what we do and what we do showcases our passion about it…..our commitment to serve the public of the country”[Deputy SS (Commercial)] All the divisions have their own set of employees who are skilled at their job responsibility and de ned work schedule and generally work on the same unless any emergency situation occurs when all divisions work as an integrated unit. Training is an essential part of the initial days at job and it focuses on all the areas related to the job profile where each and every employee gets the holistic view of the work functions and engages himself/herself in hands-on training. Thus all the employees get, not only a grasp over the rulebook procedures and written documents but also actively learn through practical exposure. “..In our 108 days of training we learn in detail the way it (Engine) functions and all the technicalities associated with it” [Train Driver] In an organization which is of enormous complexity in terms of the volume of operations it is very critical that all the associates put in their best effort with the best of their knowledge to avert any mishap. Standard codes and rules often help to normalize the decision making procedure so as to react in a time bound manner with high accuracy and precision. From very complex to utter simplistic operations, the organization runs in sync where everyone acts in resonance; which at an end user level delivers a seamless  ow of services without flaw on a daily basis. At the time of emergency like accidents or derailment however the scenario changes altogether. “..and all of us work as a team and take decisions just in time so as to reach the spot with all aids as early as possible. All the departments join hands to arrange for every single equipment and coordinate with the rescue team and Administrative starts…” (Station Superintendent) As we wondered how this organization manages so many operations across various departments in a  flawless manner every single day, the question that immediately came to our mind was “what is it that makes this organization tick?” There should be something documented or perceived, defined rules or accepted norms or something -it is like an operating system that you cannot directly see or touch but the very presence of it makes the threads and processes work in disciplined and sequenced manner. To get to the root of this query we decided to have a talk with the Station Superintendent Mr. Trivedi, who we expected literally knew each and every aspect of the station and its daily operations. Mr. Trivedi, a middle aged gentleman with a smile on his face leaned back in his armchair and asked us what we are looking for. We told about our observations and  findings, told him how we kind of “intruded” into the departments and  finally came to our point-” Sir, we saw the same picture everywhere. It is so perfect that it seems artificial but the truth is, it works that way only. What is it that makes it possible?”
Mr. Trivedi seemed to be very pleased to hear this. He laughed and then looking at our faces commented “Well, let me make one thing clear. Not all things are perfect and always work as predicted but the way we all people here handle things every day that is the real thrill”. Meenal asked, “Then sir, are you necessarily saying there are some problems here that need urgent attention?” Mr. Trivedi prompted back “Problems are everywhere. It all depends upon your capacity to get workarounds within your limited framework. Everyone complains and criticizes about so many things but no one bothers to suggest anything constructive.”
Some of the key points as we noted-
1) The organization works with a properly documented and standardized rulebook. All the sections, subsections and divisions have their rules and procedures de ned and explicitly mentioned which is followed by every single associate. The documentation is elaborate and covers various possible scenarios within that department. All the sections train their people with this documentation and no exceptions are made to what is written in the rulebook unless absolute necessity/ emergency. The standards include the operations part, maintenance part, passenger services etc. As an example all the trains running through Kanpur central railway station have assigned preferences. Signaling and Movement section checks the priority of the trains and signals accordingly. Likewise checks and inspections, line work and maintenance, catering and food services –name any department and they have their standardized guidelines.
2) The level of employee engagement, according to him, is fascinating here. People take great satisfaction in the fact that it is their contribution that makes this grand system run. All the employees are fully aware of their job responsibility and it seldom happens that any one of them takes a leave without any serious reason. He emphasized that according to rulebook there are standard rules like all the medical leaves should be
thoroughly veri ed by the Railway hospital and in case of any discrepancy it should be reported immediately. But the rule is seldom required in reality. He said that he has seen people with severe illness reporting in and working with a smile.
3) Problems faced in last couple of years are mainly due to increased number of coaches and trains announced every year and the lack of infrastructure development corresponding to that. Platforms are really less in number as compared to the number of trains crossing through Kanpur Central. This creates a logjam during the peak hours. Increasing the number of coaches in the express and passenger trains creates problems as many of the coaches are left outside the length of the platform. Now work has been started of late to resolve this issue.
4) There are problems regarding the number of vacancies as well as every year it is becoming more
and more difficult to get competent workforce thus creating a massive shortage of workers in every division. As he finished with the detailed discussion on the various issues and work structure existing in Kanpur Central we got a somewhat clear picture of the organization as a whole. “It was great talking to you, Sir” we said. Mr. Trivedi smiled heartily and taking the glass of water from his table said “We face issues, critical and challenging problems and our people solve it real time every day. We all know it here ‘Jo bhi ho bas chakka chalna chahiye’ [Whatever happens, the wheels must run]”. It was late evening, people were rushing- passengers, railway staffs, workers, coolies, vendors; there were frequent announcements, engines were whistling and signals changed from red to green and then turned into red again –and we felt standing and witnessing a great show –an everyday story with ever changing colours and we actually realized what Mr. Trivedi said, ‘the show must go on’.

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