Government needs to create a culture of effective project management

One doesn’t need to wade too deeply into the quagmire of politics to acknowledge that South Africa is in dire need of infrastructure development (and maintenance) to ensure its future growth – yet billions of Rands are being spent on projects that are seldom, if ever, delivered on time, within budget and able to do that what they set out to do.

While “Fourth Industrial Revolution” are the government buzzwords of the year, Tony McManus, MD of McManus Consulting, contends that there are far more pressing projects that government should be focused on. These mainly relate to infrastructure without which 4IR, as the Fourth Industrial Revolution is known, remains a pipe dream. Take the example of Eskom: if the power utility isn’t brought back on track, how will 4IR even get off the ground? How will the Internet of Things, robotics, virtual reality and other technologies and trends that characterize the 4IR work without power? Quite simply, they won’t.

Thus, it’s time to go back to basics; instilling a deep culture of effective project management into the public sector could be a game changer.

Stakeholder interference (often driven by political expediency) can disempower project managers and derail projects. McManus dreams of a National Project Management Office (NPMO), providing strategic oversight for all the infrastructure projects underway in the country. That’s not to say that control of the projects should be centralized but rather than all projects should be subjected to the same stringent project management rules and controls. A centralized NPMO – starting at national level and branching out into the provinces – would provide government with an effective tool for aligning project activity with its strategic interests and objectives.

Integrated Project Management Across Government Operations*, a paper presented at the PMI® Global Congress 2010, should be mandatory reading for all government departments (and would make an ideal starting point for the NPMO of McManus’ dreams). The authors identify project management as a “lever of change”, able to address the unique challenges faced by projects in the public sector. “Projects can cut through the morass of politics and short-sightedness by delivering on clear objectives and bringing change through multiple channels:

  • A proving ground for new strategies. When government organizations innovate or take a new path in solving a problem, project management enables an efficient, concise environment for change.
  • Beyond the incremental. Highly bureaucratic institutions usually change slowly and incrementally. Projects offer a way to make quantum leaps in understanding and approaches to problem solving.
  • Better stakeholder management. Cross-boundary projects require innovative ways to address stakeholder needs. A project environment enables systematic stakeholder management.”

McManus believes that perhaps the single most important contribution that project management tools can make in the public sector is to enable government to embrace two of the key features that determine project success in the private sector: flexibility and innovation.

* Jaques, T. W. & Weinstein, J. (2010). Integrating project management across government operations. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2010—North America, Washington, DC. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute

 © Tony McManus, McManus Consulting