Project Management can help South Africa prosper

We recently responded to a tender for a strategic Project Management Office from a government agency. We were impressed with the thought that had gone into their tender as well as the carefully crafted business strategy which was used as a basis for the Project Management Office.

It made us hopeful that the South African government is starting to realise the benefit of a well-thought out strategy and what it takes to make the strategy come to life namely, well-managed projects.

If project management were to be adopted sincerely by government departments, South African citizens would have better service delivery and there would be less money wasted on project overruns, project failures, frivolous projects or wasteful vendors.

The project management profession has all the necessary tools, techniques, checks and balances to ensure projects are aligned to strategy, correctly planned, optimally staffed, and executed to ensure that budgets are controlled, and quality outputs delivered.

Too many government departments (and private companies) have failed to grasp the importance of project management and how it leads to business success. It is hard to identify any other single profession which can contribute to the successful implementation of strategy, control of costs, improved quality and engaged stakeholders like project management does.

Each proposed project must be aligned with the strategy before it sees the light of day (unless it is for a compliance requirement). Each project must be properly planned, suitably staffed and the right budget allocated (based on the planning) and a measurable baseline set before work commences. When the project does start, tight control of scope (what is to be delivered), quality and costs must be an integral part of the project, with regular, objective and accurate reporting against the baseline to a central project office, where qualified and experienced professionals review progress and provide consolidated reporting to the executive.

All of these functions are comprehensively covered in internationally recognised best-practice project management methodologies such the Project Management Body Of Knowledge (PMBOK®) and Projects IN Controlled Environments (PRINCE2®) and all project managers engaged by the government (or business) should be trained and / or certified in practices like these.

For example, the PMBOK® addresses ten “knowledge areas” which a project manager needs to be proficient in such as:

Cost Management                     Scope Management               Risk Management

Time Management                 Quality Management              Communication Management

Integration Management       Procurement Management    Human Resource Management

Stakeholder Management

Project management includes techniques like Earned Value Analysis (EVA) for tracking delivery of expected outcomes in a given period of time (e.g. number of houses built in a month) linked to agreed payment milestones. This would avoid the situation where unscrupulous vendors get paid for houses when they have not actually delivered the houses such as the many failed RDP housing projects in the media and EVA will also predict when the project will likely be completed.

Project management also includes Quality Management techniques which would prevent payment for outcomes which do not meet the necessary quality standards like the locomotives that don’t fit on South African railways

Far too many of the front-page stories South Africans read are about mismanagement of public funds such as the Vrede Dairy Scandal, the audit of asbestos roofs which ever happened, and many other examples included in the State Capture Report,  could have been prevented if the basics of project management had been applied.

Of course, in many of the examples above, any project managers involved would have been at the mercy of corrupt politicians, but adamant refusal by a professional project manager to turn a blind eye to any form of unethical conduct (as required by their professional mandate) makes it much harder for nefarious deeds to remain hidden for long.

Project management has a strong emphasis on cost management. When it comes to businesses and government departments implementing project management, it would serve them well to include the project management function in approving the disbursement of funds to suppliers and vendors on a project. This extra set of eyes will prevent the payment of invoices if the project manager cannot verify the completeness and quality of a task.

Furthermore, involving the project management function in the procurement process at the outset of the project, enables the organisation to draw on the Procurement Management disciplines of the project management methodologies, and provides another layer of security that the correct vendors are being appointed based on reasonable price and the ability to deliver.

There is a dire need for the development of more professional project managers in South Africa and for them to be purposefully engaged in the delivery of projects which can add value to every man, woman, and child in South Africa. Without this key profession, South Africa will continue to pour billions down the drain instead of using those funds to build houses and clinics, and lift our poorest citizens out of poverty and give them the dignity they deserve.