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”.

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