What can we learn from CAT’s failures ?

 (This plog post is contributed by Lt Col (Retd) Rahul Kumar, Managing Director of Srijan Consulting, Bangalore. In this post, he analyses recent failure of the Common Admission Test (CAT) conducted by the premier B-schools of India, the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), and raises key questions on how one should have done adequate planning, thorough testing, backup planning and then some more! You can write to him at rk@srijanconsulting.com)

The Business Management Gurus had a PLAN – to go online for CAT. And do I hear that this was all that was required? PLANNING was ZERO!


Plans are Nothing – Planning is Everything – Dwight D. Eisenhower


Surely the top most Management Institute of the country would be teaching this day in and day out to the numerous batches passed out till 30 Nov 2009!

The difference in the teaching which they should realize now – better late than never – is that there is a world of a difference in “teachings in class rooms” and “situation on ground”!

Responsibility – The recent failure of CAT has thrown up a big question mark as to how the prime institute of Management defaulted. It’s easy to pass the blame on the conducting organisation. Agreed that the conducting organisation is the executive arm but the responsibility rests with the management. Just by allotting the responsibility to someone else and hoping that everything will be fine is not a management rule!

Load Testing – The management of the institute should have monitored the progress, carried out a hundred dry runs on the systems? Simulation of a number of students undertaking the test simultaneously should have been done – This is known as Load Testing!? I remember after setting up the best ever technical infrastructure at Digital (now HP) back office in Bangalore when we proudly placed our credentials for picking up the business from HP-US, the first question from their Head of Call Center shot out was – “HP will have a 24 hrs load testing on the infrastructure?” I confidently welcomed it and subsequently conducted the same accepting a large number of simulated calls (a few thousand) simultaneously, switching off the mains and checking for back up power, plugging out the IPLC (International Private Leased Circuit)  and noting the call breaks if any, recording the wait time of the calls before they are attended and so on. It’s a different matter that the infrastructure came out absolutely error free and we got the business but what learning we carried along was that the ONLY way to ensure 100% reliability is to actually take the process through a number of times with equal or larger volumes than expected.

Approval for Battle Readiness – How was the ‘all clear’ report from the vendor accepted? Who from the conducting authorities checked the same? Did they physically go through the process? Were mock runs conducted and the management satisfied with the Infrastructure in place?

Efficiency Check – It is said that the “efficiency of a machine is inversely proportional to the number of people watching it!” CAT is being watched by world over apart from the few lacs that experience it. Shouldn’t someone have checked the efficiency of this system? It’s prudent not only to have a working system but an efficient system.

Check Back – In the forces we give a command to our troops. It is essential to “check back” as to what they have understood. Was there any process of check back with the vendor?  If so what were the parameters and the process defined in it? A mere verbal assurance is not the management game – at least not what is taught!   

Back up Plan – Failures are a part and parcel of life. While accepting the same, one needs to have an alternative plan in order to have 100% success. What was the back up plan? The management lesson says that the back up has to be as robust as the original. Failing twice will not be accepted. One needs to carry out similar tests on the back up plan also. Did anyone check on the back up plan? When and who orders to switch to back up plan? Three days down on CAT and still the problem continues.

Once Bitten Twice Shy – We have only seen the execution part of CAT. Learning from the experience the authorities need to be extra careful in ensuring that the selection of questions from the question bank is as per the design and error free. Management needs to check and recheck a thousand times. 

Finally – the evaluation. It’s a question of make or break for many. Each appearance for the candidate is critical and hence a foolproof software which is tested a hundred times. One may even consider it cross checking manually – at least for the first time and also since one goof up has already taken place.

Wake Up Call – Its time that our Management Institutes wake up to the realty and link it’s teaching to on ground work. Foreign institutes are not fools to have the obligatory requirement for students to have at least 4 / 5 yrs experience before they plunge into this course. Ground realty is different than classroom! How will the product of such institute who fails to execute a process sell in the market?

It’s hard to believe that this was a show from the Indian Institutes of Management – or should we say Indian Institute of Mis-Management?

03 Dec 09 

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