Saturday, 14 June 2014

The truth of Mu Sigma Products: muPDNA

I recently read a article in a leading newspaper giving details on evolution of Mu Sigma. One of the things mentioned was that Mu Sigma introduced it's first Analytics product, muPDNA in 2013.

I have pointed out in a previous post (read here) that how this product has been built on existing concepts from a freely available book "The McKinsey Way" by ETHAN M. RASIEL. But this newspaper article set me thinking, so what if they have taken concepts from a book. They might have stolen the concepts but they have still given it a new spin and created a product out of it.

Knowing Mu Sigma and its value system, it was hard for me to believe that Mu Sigma can really do something original (of course they keep getting "INSPIRED" just like Bollywood Movies and Music).
I started searching the web to find if something similar was already available. What I found was not something similar, but exactly same.

 Try and spot the difference below (conceptual difference I mean):



Below is a screenshot of what this other product/company SCQuARE is about (source: free PDF download available here)

This company claims to be specialist in these concepts and has a product SCQuARE linked to it.

The important thing is that this company has been around for 20 years. I am sure some "ANALYTICS EXPERT" in Mu Sigma must have gone through their training and got "INSPIRED". Not sure if such blatant copying is against the law and whether you can really patent protect such products but Mu Sigma website does claim muPDNA as a proprietary product with a patent pending.

I am sure many other Mu Sigma products will have parallels like the above. I have no problems with that, I am just pointing out the Truth.

To the people who marvel at the valuations that Mu Sigma keeps getting, my only advice is: be happy with the money, don't claim greatness. Of course I am addressing a select few in Mu Sigma's management here because Mu Sigma employees do not have the money either.

Monday, 23 September 2013

Truth Vs Hype, Mu Sigma Review: Response to comments

**This post is in response to the comments on my original blog post. You can read it here

Let’s use some numbers to answer the comments .

Below are the month-wise Employee Provident Fund (EPF) details that Mu Sigma files with the EPF department, government of India. This  file gives the total number of employees for whom EPF was filed in a given month.

Monthwise employee strength of Mu Sigma



It's interesting to note that a company of the size of Mu Sigma can add and loose people at such rate. Remember, these numbers are net of people joining and leaving the company within a month. Actual numbers will be steeper. 

This kind of fluid workforce is usually possible in companies where there is little premium on human capital. Given the industry that Mu Sigma operates in, it’s only possible through constant exploitation. 

I think it was the aim of the founder to setup the largest “Math Factory”. Mu Sigma is definitely achieving the “Factory” part of that aim: produce low level analytics using unskilled/ semi-skilled labor. As any analytics work requires some level of skill, the knowledge gap is filled by overwork and exploitation. 

What’s even more interesting is the churn in top management. In less than a year, close to 5 senior leaders have left the company. All these were Mu Sigma veterans in their own right. See the web-archive of management page below (See starting from Sep 2012)

The point I am making is, if this company is as great as some comments claim it to be, why are so many people, both at the top and bottom, running away from it? This is the situation given that they have fixed career path and fixed salary hike for freshers for initial 2-3 years of their career.

The truth is that Mu Sigma tries to justify everything in the name of growth and project an image of what it is not. In Indian parlance, such companies are called “LALA” companies. These companies are neither founded on sound business model, nor do they have business policies that benefit all its stakeholders. Such companies survive by over exploiting resources, both human and material and social, to benefit an individual or a small group of individuals.

For the people who have quoted The Big and The Famous: 
The way these professionally run companies operate and the context in which the CEOs of these companies say certain things, Mu Sigma’s management cannot even dream of paralleling that. By quoting examples of companies much bigger and greater than Mu Sigma, you do not become those companies. Although you can fool yourself by trying to compare Mu Sigma with these companies, it does not change the ground reality.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Mu Sigma Review

Mu Sigma: The Insider

This is the truth of a company that is riding the wave of Big Data hype.

This company is seen as the biggest company out of India that has been successful in the nascent field of Big Data Analytics.  While things appear as they should from outside: Fast growing company, a marquee client list, 5 star investors, large employee force and a promising path ahead in the multi-billion dollar Big Data Industry.

The inside story is quite different. The below are facts and experiences gathered from working in this company called Mu Sigma Business Solutions Private Limited based out of Bangalore.

The Employees

The major part of the workforce is fresh engineering graduates from all kinds of colleges around the country. Almost all hires have no work experience (in any industry) and do not have any academic exposure to Analytics.

All of these hires are given a basic training of 3-4 weeks. This training is what is hyped up as “Mu Sigma University”, which is nothing but a pair of training rooms and 4-5 adhoc trainers hired from the market. There are no internal systems or procedures to ensure continuous learning. Neither there is any knowledge management.

After 3-4 weeks of training these new hires are expected to start solving business problems for clients under the guidance of a Manager. As can be expected, most freshers do not have relevant technical, business or language skills.

Due to lack of proper training employees need to work for at least 16-20 hours a day. Employees are expected to work on weekends and holidays. In many teams this is a regular feature without any compensatory off or extra payment. “Office in-time” of employees is tracked and enforced but there is no “out-time”.  It is expected that you will come to office by 9:30 a.m. and leave whenever the work is over (which never does). I still remember the CEO taunting a girl in the lift at 10:00 a.m. for being late (She had been working late previous day and left office after 10:00 p.m.) He told her, “This is Mu Sigma,  that is like the normal time”.
Experience and smart work are not valued. This advertised as that we are “learning” oriented and not “knowing” oriented. This is a gimmick to keep the costs low. Most teams are deliberately kept fresher heavy as they come cheap (Around Rs. 3-4 Lacs per annum). Managers hardly have an opportunity to learn anything from a career advancement perspective as they are always busy doing petty admin work, which should be taken care by systems and procedures.  

Employees are moved randomly between teams. So there is no real knowledge creation within the teams and what you have is a bunch of stressed out people with superficial skills and knowledge. Company sells this stupidity internally by saying that “we do not want you to be in your comfort zone” , while actually it’s a necessity to deal with super high attrition. Such teams rarely deliver any lasting value to its members or the client.

Mu Sigma has come up with a fixed career path scheme wherein there is "No real appraisal for first 2 years for freshers". What it means is that hike and promotion of a fresher are fixed for first 2 years in the company.  This is advertised as a philosophical move, saying that we do not want to judge people initially and give them time to groom. Actually it is a step to arrest high attrition (almost 50%). The incentive of assured promotion, from Business Analyst to Senior Business Analyst, keeps freshers in the company.

Lack of skill, time pressure and absence of adequate infrastructural support, creates an atmosphere of extreme stress. Many new hires start losing their health after joining the company (many become heavy smokers). Fixed career path and lack of skills, leads to tremendous free-rider problem within teams. which in turn causes conflicts. HR managers are not only incompetent in dealing with complex situations, they use such opportunities to push their own agenda. Due to lack of clarity in their roles, HR end up interfering with the workings of the team.  There are no standard HR policies and conflict situations are used to enforce the will of senior management. Middle managers suffer the most and do not have a say in most things.

The Management
I found the management of Mu Sigma highly unethical. They often use dubious means to win clients. Case studies shared with potential clients are often fake.

Many a times Mu Sigma uses concepts and knowledge from the public domain and presents it as its own. Even the senior leadership blatantly steal concepts from published work and presents as their own. Public example of this blatant plagiarism is the product they have released called "MuPDNA". All the concepts are exactly copied from a book called "The McKinsey Way" by ETHAN M. RASIEL. Mu Sigma is not only presenting these concepts as its own but also trying to commercialize them.

Founder is a salesman, so they are good at selling but do not know what to do after the sale.
Professionalism of several senior leaders is questionable. CEO and the other’s from senior leadership often use foul language (Fu**, Chu****) in internal meetings. At least 15 – 20 people from the CEO’s family are deployed in the business. Some of them hold key positions in the company without relevant qualifications. 

Vision statements from senior leadership are nothing but a bunch of management jargon's, stolen or hearsay . There is no real vision for the company, forget about executing it.

The Infrastructure

Most of the senior leadership, barring a few, are general managers. They neither understand Analytics nor the technology/systems required to deliver it. Hence they do not invest in either. Even the business systems required to run day to day business of the company are absent.

Despite getting a spate of investments, Mu Sigma does not have infrastructure in place to handle Big Data. Employees have to put in extra hours, holidays and weekends to make things work.  

Company does not have basic facilities like a telecommunication system, data servers, personal machines etc. This forces employees to use their own resources for everything: Join meetings or be present in office at odd hours, use poor quality free conferencing systems for communicating, spend extra hours due to antiquated equipment.  What’s laughable is old machines/laptops are not replaced even if they are not working properly or are broken.

One thing which attracts young people to Mu Sigma is the onsite opportunities. But make no mistake as going onsite can be the worst thing you can experience in this company. Once you are marked for an onsite assignment, the ordeal starts. You are on your own in getting everything done in India and the new country that you land up in. Life onsite can be worse.  Most onsite guys have to deal with clients with little support of any kind from the company. There is absolute zero infrastructural or training support for onsite employees

Onsite employees are overworked too and they have to deal with this stress alone. I would guess, if you are dead onsite, Mu Sigma won’t know, neither does it care.

The Customers?

I have deliberately kept the customer section in the end because they are most vulnerable as they are paying the money. 

Given the practices followed by Mu Sigma, I think customers lose the most. Even if the young employees somehow manage this exploitation, they can hardly deliver lasting value. If you ask any of the young people working in the company or see Mu Sigma reviews online, most of them will say “Good learning but No life”. All this learning is at the client’s expense as Mu Sigma does not invest in people and systems. Clients can imagine how much real value can be added by Mu Sigma and its inexperienced and stressed out workforce.  

The obvious question then is: why are investors lining up for Mu Sigma and how come it has such an elite client list?  I can see below reasons:
  • Investors care only about profitability. Mu Sigma has kept it costs low by above practices and hence been profitable
  • Widespread use of Data Analytics is still nascent. It’s hard to judge the real value of data and most clients do not yet understand how to deal with Analytics outsourcing and value Analytics work. Mu Sigma takes advantage of this ignorance.
  • Big Data is hyped so much that everyone wants to join the bandwagon, even if they do not understand it well. Mu Sigma is well known and is a cheap alternative. Additionally, unethical practices of Mu Sigma ensure that it appears to be an Analytics service provider that it is not.
  • Big Data Analytics is enjoying the hype that once .com bubble did in 2000. In most companies, what passes as Big Data Analytics is actually Business Intelligence (BI), which has been around for decades.
As a closing note, Mu Sigma hires young, inexperienced, inappropriately skilled people on low salaries. It overworks them and does not provide adequate training. It uses every trick in the book to exploit people and management of the company is arbitrary. 

Even if you discount everything mentioned above and you are lucky enough to manage yourself due to your own initiatives, the rot of the system and senior management will get you and bring you down.

Because Mu Sigma is nothing but a “Modern Sweatshop”.

See below link for response to comments